After a tense first half, the introduction of Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane after half-time made all the difference as the Bulls landed the knockout punch against the Sharks at Loftus.
AT FIRST it was like two boxers checking each other out, but the Bulls upped the ante early in the second half to land the knockout punch to set up a 43-9 Rainbow Cup SA bonus-point victory over the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
The introduction of the two replacement Springbok props, Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane, after half-time made all the difference as they lit up a Bulls pack that had been matched by a determined Sharks forward unit.
Flyhalf Morné Steyn also won his individual battle against Curwin Bosch, slotting five penalties and two conversions, as well as edging the territorial game with the boot as Jake White’s team went to the top of the log.
Both teams appeared to show too much respect to the opposition in the opening 40 minutes, which was utterly forgettable as a slew of penalties disrupted the flow of the game.
The ball rarely went past the flyhalves of both backlines in the first half as halfbacks Steyn and Embrose Papier, as well as Bosch and Jaden Hendrikse, tried to put pressure with box-kicks and up-and-unders.
It worked to a degree as the back-three combinations battled to win it in the air, with many balls allowed to bounce. But an inevitable knock-on or yet another penalty would stop the attacking sides in their tracks.
Referee Jaco Peyper had a busy evening policing the scrums and breakdowns, and it was almost a sequence of one penalty for one side and another for the other, with Steyn and Bosch exchanging three-pointers to go into the break at 12-9 to the Bulls.
But once Gqoboka and Nyakane replaced Gerhard Steenekamp and Mornay Smith, the immediate lift in intensity from the Bulls was evident. They were got stuck into the Sharks forwards, and with lock Walt Steenkamp also getting up high to contest the line-outs, the Durban outfit were feeling the heat.
Both Bok props also carried the ball strongly around the fringes, while their line-out maul suddenly got going too. They were rewarded for their hard grind when Gqoboka pounced on a ball that popped out of a ruck and scored to break the shackles in the 53rd minute to put the home side 19-9 up.
Lock Ruan Nortjé and replacement flank Elrigh Louw also put in big shifts on defence to snuff out any potential Shark attack, despite the best efforts of opposition captain Lukhanyo Am and Aphelele Fassi.
And just when coach Sean Everitt may have thought that the Sharks were going to get back into the game as they fed a five-metre line-out, that man Walt Steenkamp went up and slapped the ball to the Bulls side.
Steyn stretched the lead with his fifth penalty, and then wing Stravino Jacobs secured the victory with an easy finish in the final quarter after some wonderful continuity from the Bulls on attack.
Replacement hooker Schalk Erasmus added a third try, and the bonus point was clinched in the closing stages by reserve flyhalf Chris Smith.
Bulls 43 – Tries: Lizo Gqoboka, Stravino Jacobs, Schalk Erasmus, Chris Smith. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2), Smith (2). Penalties: Steyn (5).
Sharks 9 – Penalties: Curwin Bosch (3).