[Report courtesy of SA Rugby]
With their pack in full cry, the Bulls laid down a massive marker in Super Rugby Unlocked when they beat the Sharks by 41-14 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday evening.
The home team led 17-9 at the break and outscored their visitors from Durban by six tries to one to set up an emphatic bonus point win to move to the top of the standings after the earlier match between the Lions and Cheetahs had been called off.
Bulls captain and No 8 Duane Vermeulen brilliantly led the charge and his fellow forwards followed suit at Fortress Loftus, winning the collisions and set pieces, creating opportunities for their backs and keeping the Sharks on the back foot for most of the game.
Apart from a few early scrum penalties against the Bulls, their pack grew in stature and gradually took control of the contest which laid the platform for an impressive victory.
In the end, the home team dominated all forward facets and after a number of crushing scrums by the home team, Marco Jansen van Vuren (replacement back) put the penultimate nail into the Sharks’ coffin with the Bulls’ fifth try in the 78th minute.
The final nail came in added time when the Sharks ran out of ideas and Embose Papier (replacement scrumhalf) gathered a nothing-kick and raced away for the Bulls’ sixth try.
The visitors from Durban were intent on launching the ball high into the air, but their accuracy wasn’t great and the Bulls’ back trio had more than enough time to handle the up-and-unders and ensure the home team remained in their opponents’ half.
They also had a bit more space and showed their intent to keep ball in hand and have a go at the Sharks’ defence. The Bulls were finally rewarded for their patience on attack when Stedman Gans (outside centre) broke the deadlock with the first try of the match in the 28th minute.
The men from Pretoria pinned their ears back and ran at space, unsettling the Sharks’ defensive line before the Blitzbok star danced his way past a few defenders to go over under the uprights.
It was clear that the Bulls were keen to keep ball in hand and they were rewarded for another good passage of play when Marco van Staden (flank) scored their second try after a counter-attacking move four minutes later.
Morné Steyn, who missed a few shots at goal in the first half, added both conversions to an earlier penalty goal and with Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch making no mistakes with his three first-half kicks at goal, the Bulls led by 17-9 at the break.
Van Staden scored his second try early in the second half from a well-worked lineout drive, which was just the start the Bulls would have wanted after half-time.
The Sharks pulled one back eight minutes later when Dylan Richardson (hooker) crashed over after the visitors finally managed to get their hands on the ball inside the Bulls’ 22. Bosch pushed the conversion and with 25 minutes to go, it was a 10-point game.
But the Bulls hit back almost immediately when they had an opportunity inside the Sharks’ half and Steyn’s deft grubber was gathered on the wing by Kurt-Lee Arendse who popped the ball in the tackle for Gans to score his second try, with the Steyn conversion putting the home team ahead by 31-14 with just over 20 minutes to go.
This was also when the wind and rain started pelting Loftus Versfeld, resulting in a number of errors from both sides until that final flurry by the Vodacom Bulls which led to tries by Jansen van Vuren and Papier and a 40-point haul.
Bulls 41 (17) – Tries: Stedman Gans (2), Marco van Staden (2), Marco Jansen van Vuren, Embrose Papier. Conversions: Morne Steyn (4). Penalty goal: Steyn.
Sharks 14 (9) – Try: Dylan Richardson. Penalty goals: Curwin Bosch (3).