The Cell C Sharks went down 39-33 to the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday in a disappointing outcome to a competitive Vodacom Super Rugby clash.
With the Lions and Stormers both losing their matches this weekend, and the Jaguares enjoying a bye and thus not able to pick up any points, a victory would offer the Cell C Sharks a gilt-edged opportunity to make a real run for conference honours.
As it was, the bonus point saw us remain in fourth spot into on the South African Conference; ultimately it wasn’t the result we had hoped for. Head coach Robert du Preez had said in the build-up to the match that discipline would be key and both sides were made to pay.
The game took on the complexion of a chess match for the opening 10 minutes with neither side able to break the defences with the Bulls enjoying the lions’ share of possession. But the clash burst into life when Curwin Bosch scored a try that was cancelled out for an earlier trip on a Bulls player. The home side kicked to the corner then a cross kick from the resultant attack exploited our shortage on numbers for a try to the Bulls.
Not five minutes later, our defence was again stretched, allowing Jesse Kriel to make a break through the middle to score his team’s second try, the conversion easier this time and a successful one for a 12-0 lead.
With Curwin Bosch back on the field, the Cell C Sharks managed to get some ball possession going and good interplay involving Akker van der Merwe and Beast Mtawarira saw the latter feeding his fullback. The TMO was called upon once more, but this time the try stood and we were on the scoreboard with 15 minutes of the half remaining.
A busy evening for the TMO saw him ruling once more, this time a try in the corner for the Bulls and with the touchline conversion, the home team had restored their 12 point lead.
With less than five minutes remaining in the first half, the Bulls lost a man of their own to a yellow card after a blatant, late, no arms shoulder charge that was deemed cynical, giving us the opportunity to push deep into the Bulls half.
The lineout exploited the numbers advantage and Jacque Vermeulen took the ball at pace and muscled his way over. The conversion took it back to a five point margin which became eight when Pollard kicked a long range penalty shortly before the break.
But Bosch showed his prowess with the boot as he struck over a 57m penalty on the stroke of half-time to reduce the deficit and keep the game alive.
The second half started with a spring in our step and renewed vigour as Robert du Preez sent a penalty through the posts to take the scoreline to 22-20 in the Bulls’ favour, but crucially we were looking dangerous with ball in hand as the home team were forced to concede penalties in order to stop our momentum.
More indiscipline from the Bulls , battling to contain our attack, saw Robert du Preez kick his fourth successful shot at posts, but more importantly, giving us the lead for the first time in the match as we went 23-22 ahead with half an hour’s play remaining.
The TMO was back in action minutes later to rule on a possible Bulls knock-on en route to a try, but the replay showed it was good and the home side were back in the lead.
With 15 minutes of the game remaining, the Bulls scored their fifth try and with the conversion, took a worrying 13 point lead.
A second yellow card, for foul play, signed the death knell of any chance we might have of coming back, and the resultant three points took the Bulls into a 39-23 lead.
Jean-Luc du Preez powered over for our third try a minute later, and with his brother Robert converting, there were now nine points in it.
Just as a gimmer of hope had snuck in, the Bulls scored after a sustained period of attack. But the TMO was called upon once more and ruled on a forward pass in the build-up and the try was denied. Game on with less than five minutes remaining although it would be a big ask to come back in such a short space of time.
With time up and a penalty on offer, du Preez converted to earn the Cell Sharks a losing bonus point, but ultimately not the reward we had gone into this game in search of.