They say that the Super Rugby competition is the hardest in world rugby, and some of the collisions in Saturday night’s derby certainly attested to that... there will be some very sore bodies on both sides on Sunday after that effort.
Despite all the Sharks’ recent woes and disappointments - particularly from a disciplinary point of view - a decent-sized crowd turned up to watch the team’s last game at home, before they enjoy a bye and then head on their four-match tour of New Zealand and Australia.
And while the game was not a free-flowing spectacle to capture the imagination, it was an intense battle between two sides who were evenly-matched.
For the home side it was hard-working loose forwards Renaldo Bothma and Marcell Coetzee who were entrusted with taking the ball up against the Bulls big men early on.
The visitors were more prepared and intent to make the ball do the work and spread it wide and often.
As a result, most of the early portion of the game was played in the Sharks’ half of the field, with the visitors dominating the territorial battle substantially - almost 70 percent of the first half was played in the Sharks’ half of the field.
The Sharks were forced into making an early change to their line-up when fullback Odwa Ndungane had to depart the field after appearing to land awkwardly in a tackle. He landed heavily on his head and his place was taken by SP Marais.
Ndungane may need to undergo a concussion test before he is allowed to travel with the team.
The stalemate was broken in the 18th minute when Deon Stegmann was penalised for an early tackle and Sharks flyhalf Fred Zeilinga made no mistake with the three-pointer.
Two minutes later, Beast Mtawarira gave away a soft penalty for getting involved in an off-the-ball fracas between big Bulls flank Jacques du Plessis and not-so-large Sharks wing S’bura Sithole.
But the infraction was too far out for Handre Pollard to consider, so the Bulls advanced play upfield by keeping the ball alive until they were on the Sharks’ 22, where they set-up a drop-kick which Pollard pushed wide.
While Coetzee was the pick of the ball-carriers, Stegmann was winning the contest on the ground in the loose, ensuring plenty of second-phase possession for the visitors.
Among the backs, Bulls centres Burger Odendaal and JJ Engelbrecht combined well and had the Sharks at full stretch whenever they probed the hosts’ defensive line.
The arm-wrestle at scrum time was evenly-balanced until the half-hour mark, when the Sharks inexplicably collapsed the bind and gave away a penalty on their 10m line. Pollard took the opportunity to put his side back on level terms.
The opening try finally came in the 35th minute as scrumhalf Rudy Paige - who ducked down the blind side at a scrum - and Francois Hougaard interpassed their way down the right hand touchline for more than 60m before the latter dived over in the corner. Pollard’s conversion attempt struck the upright and stayed out.
The Sharks substituted Jannie du Plessis for Thomas du Toit in their front row at halftime and came out with renewed vigour. It showed almost immediately, as two minutes of territorial domination was turned into points, as scrumhalf Cobus Reinach burst through a gap, sold a dummy and passed to Coetzee, who went over for a five-pointer next to the posts which Zeilinga converted.
The 10-8 lead did not last long, though, as Pollard kicked a penalty after the Sharks were pinged for going off their feet at the ruck two minutes later.
Pollard extended the lead as the Sharks gave away a soft penalty by taking out the man in the air at a lineout with 22 minutes to go.
A couple of injuries to Bulls players then disrupted what little flow the game had had.
First Paige was helped off the field with what looked like a serious knee injury.
And then Odendaal, who had danced his way through a handful of tackles, failed to get up and had to receive assistance from a trainer.
Another penalty, near the halfway line, by Pollard, then extended the lead to seven. And that was the way it stayed for the final five minutes.
The fact that the Sharks conceded no cards - yellow or red - was a good indication that coach Gary Gold’s message about discipline is getting through to them.
Original source: Bulls shade Sharks in bruising derby