The Cell C Sharks went to Pretoria full of purpose but it was the Bulls who prevailed, 37-14, in a tense and uncompromising Vodacom Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
The home side scored inside the opening five minutes following penalty advantage, Handré Pollard making no mistake with the three pointer. They would continue to exert pressure throughout. Although we played our best rugby in the final quarter, it was the Bulls who would finish stronger.
The Bulls flyhalf doubled the score with a second penalty just short of the 10 minute mark, the home side taking every opportunity for points rather than kicking to touch and looking to maul the ball from attacking lineouts.
The Bulls added a third score as the game approached the 20 minute mark, a slick move off a scrum with a three on two attacking move taking the ball all the way to the tryline for the opening try of the game. Pollard’s conversion pushed his team into a 13-0 lead.
The Bulls flyhalf kicked a scrum penalty on the half hour that extended his team’s score to 16 unanswered points, and followed that up with another scrum penalty with five minutes of the half remaining to push the lead to 19-0.
To their credit, the Bulls had capitalised off some polished work and the half-time score testified to this. A final scrum, where we were dominant but from which Duane Vermeulen was somehow able to rescue the ball, almost led to a second Bulls try but for a brave tackle just before our tryline that saw the ball lost forward.
At 19 points adrift, the Cell C Sharks had a mountain of work ahead in the second half and things couldn’t have started better with a penalty for an attempted steal which was kicked to touch. The forwards did their bit to put pressure on the Bulls before Jeremy Ward crashed over for a converted try.
The Bulls struck back immediately, sucking in the defence to score out wide and although Pollard missed his first shot at goals, at 24-7, the home side still held the upper hand. A fifth penalty took the Bulls to a 20 point lead, but a strong build-up, resilience and commitment on attack first from the forwards then Andre Esterhuizen before he fed Dan du Preez who wasn’t going to stand back for anyone as he crashed through for our second try. His brother Robert converted to reduce the lead to 13 points.
There was a strong shift in momentum as we injected energy and determination into the attack, enjoying the lion’s share of possession over the course of the final quarter, but all credit to the Bulls who managed to absorb the pressure and withstand everything we threw at them.
On penalty advantage with just on two minutes of the game, Pollard kicked the only drop-goal of the match and it was the Bulls who would have the last say, attacking off a turnover and Rosko Specman too quick on the outside as he scored his team’s third try and seal the result for the home side.
Cell C Sharks captain Louis Schreuder said afterwards, “Once again discipline cost us, it was very disappointing for us, we didn’t achieve what we set out to, We’ll have a hard look at ourselves.”