The Sharks got their Super Rugby campaign off to a perfect start in Durban as they beat the Bulls 31-16 on Saturday night.
Five points will be the ideal start for new Sharks head coach Jake White and his team and they deserved the win to open up their 2014 season, with the pivotal try coming in the final minute as Springbok flyhalf Patrick Lambie crossed to claim their fourth score in a physical derby.
The fixture was played under greasy conditions because of the Durban humidity and the hosts took a third-minute lead via the boot of pivot Lambie, who looked assured in his first competitive game under new head coach White. His combination with inside centre Frans Steyn and Paul Jordaan was solid and will need to be if the team is to succeed.
Louis Fouchè levelled matters in the eighth minute but the tied ball game would not last 60 seconds as the Sharks crossed for their first try. It came from a lovely set play on halfway as Lambie found Lwazi Mvovo, who went through before sending Jordaan over on the right.
Lambie missed the extras but would land a penalty on the half-hour as the Sharks extended the lead to 10 points at 16-6, looking comfortable. Those three points came after Lambie's second conversion miss from that controversial try from Reinach. Bulls boss Frans Ludeke would have been left livid while Francois Hougaard remained red faced as it was his pass from the disproved line-out knock-on that saw Reinach scoot over for the five points.
The Bulls, who suffered a player exodus in the off-season, were struggling to make an impact in terms of territory and fluidity in their gameplan. Fouchè though would cut the gap to five with only four minutes remaining in the first-half, which would have sent them in happy.
However, a mistake from the Bulls would lead to a sizeable deficit at the break. It came from Pierre Spies being stripped of the ball by scrum-half Reinach and the recycled ball on the 22 saw Steyn kick cross-field to Odwa Ndungane, who finished well for a 23-9 half-time lead.
The second-half was a much more low-key affair in terms of scoring as missed long-range attempts from Steyn followed Lambie extending the margin to seventeen points six minutes into the half. In fact it was overshadowed by the return to Super Rugby of Victor Matfield.
And judging from the Bulls' improved second-half performance, the much-debated Matfield comeback is set to be a positive move as from a scoring perspective, the visitors were 7-3 up until Lambie's try thanks to a pushover from Jono Ross, converted by Handrè Pollard.
Tries: Jordaan, Reinach, Ndungane, Lambie
Pen: Lambie 3
Yellow Card: Deysel (67th minute)
Pen: Fouchè 2
Yellow Card: Basson (79th minute)
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Reserves: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 S'bura Sithole.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouchè, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Reserves: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handrè Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Man of the Match: Marcell Coetzee
Referee: Jaco Peyper