Late Steyn penalty sinks Sharks
A 75th-minute penalty from Morne Steyn saw the Bulls clinch an 18-16 victory over the Sharks at Kings Parks on Saturday.
Steyn kicked all of the Bulls' points with three penalties on either side of half time while Sharks scrum-half Charl McLeod scored the only try of a hard-fought encounter.
Indeed an otherwise dull clash, characterised by conservative tactics and endless kicking, only really came to life if the final ten minutes as Patrick Lambie converted McLeod's try from the touchline to give the hosts a one-point lead.
But the Bulls would have the last laugh with ever-reliable Steyn founding the target once again as the team from Pretoria consolidated their place at the top of the SA conference and left the Sharks with a mountain to climb if they are to have any hope of making the play-offs.
Three Steyn penalties helped the Bulls hold a 9-3 advantage at half time and they would remain in front until Lambie's 72nd-minute conversion put the hosts ahead, albeit only for a few minutes.
The Sharks went ahead in just the third minute courtesy of a Lambie penalty that was awarded after a high tackle by Pierre Spies, although the Bulls hit back via Steyn when the hosts were penalised for coming in from the side.
John Plumtree's men did have an opportunity to retake the lead after a scrum infringement by the Bulls front row, but Riaan Viljoen's 50-plus-metre attempt sailed inches wide.
Some illegal defending by Keegan Daniel handed Steyn another shot at goal just after 22 minutes and the veteran Springbok fly-half made no mistake to give his side the lead.
That lead was stretched after an off-side call against the Sharks, with Lambie missing a second penalty for his team four minutes from the break.
The gap was six points at the break and the Bulls' job to hold on to that became slightly harder four minutes into the second half when Bjorn Basson was sent to the sin bin following a spear tackle on Lambie.
And the Sharks fly-half instantly had a chance to cut the lead when Chiliboy Ralepelle conceded a penalty - Lambie making it a three-point ball game.
But there was another twist after 50 minutes when Franco van der Merwe was shown a yellow card for taking out a man at the line-out, momentarily turning the contest into a 14-man affair.
After Steyn slotted over the subsequent penalty, the Sharks should have had the first try after a brilliant break forward by Kyle Cooper, but they failed to cross despite a swarm of options homing in on the right.
They did have the consolation of a penalty, though, with Lambie booting over.
However, the three points were gifted straight back when Daniel bore the brunt of pulling down a maul and Steyn knocked over again just as the clock ticked past the hour.
There was finally some elation for the home fans with eight minutes to play as McLeod picked up at the base of a penalty scrum and darted over to score on the right -- the scrumhalf dotting down as he was about to be taken into touch.
But a line-out penalty was then conceded by Tendai Mtawarira straight after the restart, with Steyn slotting over to seal the win.
Pens: Lambie 3
Yellow card: van der Merwe
Pens: Steyn 6
Yellow card: Basson
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Piet Lindeque, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (capt), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Sean Robinson.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche/Jan Serfontein, 22 Lionel Mapoe.
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)