The spoils were shared between the Cell C Sharks and Bulls when the two teams met on a hot Saturday afternoon in their final hit-out, the sides enjoying a seven-all draw.
A big crowd packed Ashton International College in Ballito for this final warm-up match ahead of next week’s opening Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Sunwolves to watch some exciting rugby between two powerful sides.
Whether it was early season jitters or the baking KZN coastal heat, both sides battled with ball retention, although it was the visiting Bulls who fluffed their lines the most in trying conditions. They probably had the lion’s share of possession but battled to turn advantage into points. Both sides did look dangerous on attack though and when it was time to defend, there was no holding back with some fierce hits at the collision points.
By the time the referee had blown for a water break at the end of the first quarter, neither side had been able to score, but there was the promise of excitement to come. The Bulls used the boot – through flyhalf Pollard – to good effect to put the ball behind the Cell C Sharks’ defence, but weren’t able to make that effort count, while we were more direct, looking to break through with ball in hand.
The wall eventually broke when the Bulls kicked a penalty to the corner and from the resultant lineout managed to drive over for the first score of the game.
Five minutes later, Cameron Wright raced in for our first try, this after a speedy break from flank Jacques Vermeulen down the line, the culmination of a well-worked move that started on the other side of the field. Curwin Bosch converted to even the score.
The Cell C Sharks pushed hard for a second try late in the game, this after having to defend against an exciting break by the Bulls, but turnover ball in our 22 gave us the opportunity to get into the Bulls half and deeper. There was a strong attack in the Bulls 22 that looked promising, only for a penalty for a Bulls stealer to end the move, and the half.
The second half was similarly highly charged and action-packed but by the time the subs were sent on around the 50 minute mark, neither side had been able to penetrate some outstanding defence.
Both coaches made wholesale changes with half an hour remaining and the energy was palpable as the pace and intensity lifted. Once again, it was the youngsters who were looking to showcase their talents and make a claim for Super Rugby honours.
The Bulls conceded a yellow card after the third quarter, having earlier conceded a penalty for a high tackle. However, the lineout on their 10m line went awry, but it was, nonetheless, a sign of attacking intent.
The early momentum in the Bulls’ favour had turned significantly. But despite the intent and determination, we just could not add to the earlier try to break the deadlock. The Bulls, under the pump for much of the second half, must be commended for their defence. Lesser teams would have crumbled under the pressure.
Ultimately there would have been some frustration for the Cell C Sharks, but created so many opportunities is worth applauding, while the Bulls will probably come out of this game feeling relieved at not losing.