Bulls (6) 23
Tries: Du Plessis, Engelbrecht. Conversions: Potgieter (2). Penalties: Pollard, Potgieter. Drop goal: Potgieter.
Sharks (13) 19
Tries: Alberts. Conversion: Swiel. Penalties: Steyn (4)
Loftus Versfeld - It is hardly a crime to surrender an unbeaten record in Super Rugby – it is almost inevitable – but sometimes the manner in which your colours get lowered is more unpalatable than the loss of the log points.
That is how the Sharks must feel after they disappeared without trace in the third quarter of the game when a hungrier Bulls side produced a burst of compelling rugby that was the difference between winning and losing. It was a crucial period when one team came out of the change room on fire and the other half asleep. Bang, bang, the Bulls scored quick fire tries and swept from 6-13 down at half-time to 20-13 up in 15 minutes, with the Sharks barely having fired a shot in protest.
They gamely fought back with massive Frans Steyn penalties to give the game a grand stand finish at 20-19 to the home side as the clock ticked down, but in truth, the Bulls deserved the win when a last-minute Handré Pollard penalty nudged the lead out to 24-19.
The Sharks had been untidy for most of the game, some of which was not their making, but a team that had been hyped to be potential champions should have shown more composure against a Bulls side full of heart but in reality quite ordinary.
Let’s give the Sharks their due. They lost their flyhalf and scrumhalf in the first nine minutes of the game, and that would rattle any side, but more so a Sharks team that rely so much on Patrick Lambie. The 23-year-old Springbok injured a bicep muscle after five minutes and, while rookie replacement Tim Swiel showed some nice touches, he cannot be expected to come from nowhere and wield Lambie’s conductor’s baton with the aplomb.
Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach went off a minute later, and the Sharks were in disarray at half-back. Yes, Charl McLeod has been around the block but how often has he played with Swiel, who was making his debut at this level?
The bottom line is that the loss of Lambie and Reinach comes hard on the heels of injuries to Pieter-Steph du Toit and Paul Jordaan, and the charmed life of the Sharks in terms of injuries has clearly come to an end.
The absence of Du Toit was particularly felt in the line-outs, which were the shakiest they have been this season, although the presence of Victor Matfield would have had something do with that. The set scrums were also less than solid.
In general, the visit to Loftus was everything Jake White had predicted it to be – tough, uncompromising, predictable .... everything except victorious! And the Sharks had truly believed they were going to win this one.
It might not be a bad thing for the Sharks to be brought down to earth with a thump.
They were beaten fair and square by a Bulls team that are not going to set the competition on fire, and this week the Sharks host very difficult customers in the Waratahs. The Sharks will be suitably chastised and humbled for a match against a New South Wales team shaping up to be the best of the Australian challenge.
The Sharks took a point out of the match and still comfortably top the log on 19 points, from the Lions (16) and Bulls (14), with both teams having played a game more than the Sharks.
White and the Sharks will be kicking themselves that they let the Bulls in for the flurry of tries that put them on the road to victory.