Johannesburg – The Bulls showed signs of maturity as they won the return fixture against the Sharks 23-19 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
When the two sides met in the first round of the competition in Durban, the Bulls were convincingly beaten by their coastal rivals.
The victory was affirmation to Bulls coach Frans Ludeke that his side was on the right track as they cemented their place among the top sides in the competition with only five points separating them from the log-leading Sharks.
“If you get a win against the Sharks, the way we played, it is a good reward for us and playing against a side that is on top of their game,” Ludeke said after the match.
“A lot of things we worked on over the last few weeks came through. Victor (Matfield) made a few smart adjustments to our attack in the week and it paid off for us today.”
The Bulls, in the process, have brought an end to the Sharks' four-match winning streak as they beat the last remaining unbeaten side in the early stages of the competition.
The visitors went into the half-time break with a seven-point advantage despite losing their halfback combination of Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach to injury in the first seven minutes of the match.
Sharks director of rugby Jake White admitted it was a serious blow to his side's chances of beating the Bulls on their home soil.
“If you lose your nine and 10 literally in the first seven minutes of the game it is always going to be tough but we aren't to make any excuses,” White said.
“The Bulls were good, they took all their chances and they defended well, they went hard at the breakdown and made it hard for us.”
Matfield, who took over the captaincy after lock partner Flip van der Merwe, was ruled out due to a hamstring strain on Friday, lead a spirited Bulls pack.
The return of former Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter to the side also added a new dimension to the side as he formed a handy trio with Deon Stegmann and Jacques du Plessis.
The 20-year-old Du Plessis is clearly coming into his own as he was again valuable with ball in hand and defensively.
Stegmann and Potgieter were equally impressive with the former terrorising the Sharks at the breakdown area.
The Bulls lay down the gauntlet after the restart with Du Plessis breaking through a tackle in the 47 minute to score, with flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter converting to level the scores on 13-13.
“We felt at half-time we created opportunities that we didn't use, we gave away soft penalties that kept them in front,” Matfield said.
“But 20 minutes into the second half we were good and we can take a lot out of that, there are still a lot of mistakes but we are a work in progress.”
Matfield said the secret to beating the Sharks brimming with Springbok players was the fact that they aimed at playing as a unit instead on relying on individual stars.
“Against the Blues we were very happy about how we played, tonight we always knew it would be tough because the Sharks are a very good team, they haven't lost yet,” he said.
“We really had to fight till the end with 23 guys giving their best, playing for each other and really showing great commitment out there.” – Sapa