THE Sharks ended the Bulls reign as Super Rugby champions when they beat the Bulls at Loftus 23-26 to book a place in the play offs.
The Sharks were inspired and played their best match of the season as they led for all but a couple of minutes.
The result means that the Sharks qualify for the play offs and the Bulls season comes to an end.
A late try by wing Lwazi Mvovo and a brilliant individual showing by French International Frederick Michalak brought a packed Loftus Versfeld to their knees as the defending champions bid farewell to several of their long serving stalwarts.
The contest got off to a thundering start with the visitors showing their intent at the tackle area.
It was also at the breakdown where flanks Keegan Daniel and Deon Stegmann were involved in a titanic battle that played a huge role in the final result.
Flyhalves Patrick Lambie and Morne Steyn exchanged penalties in the opening five minute before the Sharks started dictating proceedings.
Having taken control of possession, the men from Durban started attacking from all corners of the field where props Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis showed that they are also capable of distributing the ball like backline players.
Lambie put his side back in front with another three-pointer as the men from Pretoria were forced into backpedalling for the greater part of the first half.
Despite playing off the back foot, the Bulls managed to keep the visitors out through some brilliant defence.
However, they were forced to watch the Man-of-the-Match Michalak put a drop-goal through the uprights to extend his team’s lead to six.
While what actually happened at scrum time will remain a mystery to most, the Bulls will be grateful that Lambie failed to convert a penalty that came as a result of a fault at that set piece.
The young pivot would go on to miss two more crucial shots at goal before Michalak took over the kicking duties.
For the Bulls there were a number of stand-out players on the night with Chiliboy Ralepelle overshadowing Springbok team mates Bismarck du Plessis and John Smit.
Not only was the hooker impressive protecting the ruck fringes, he also showed his pace and commitment by following up kicks where most frontrowers show reluctance.
For the Sharks, Ryan Kankowski also gave the Bok selectors some food for thought with his probing runs around the rucks – not to mention his blistering pace in open play.
The first try of the match came less than five minutes from half time when Daniel slipped a pass to JP Pietersen who sped though the Bulls line before off-loading to Sharks’ skipper Stefan Terblanche who dotted down.
In staying true to Bulls traditions, the men in blue bounced back with a five pointer of their own when wing Gerhard van den Heever was put into space out wide.
Leading 16-13 at the break the Sharks kept the foot on the pedal and capitalised on the silly mistakes that started creeping into the Bulls’ game.
Although he started at 10, Lambie was often used as a first receiver and this gave the Sharks options both sides of the pitch.
Another big area of success for the visitors were at the lineouts where they managed to neutralise the threat Bulls captain Victor Matfield posed by keeping the ball in play for as long as possible.
With only three points separating the sides, the Sharks attacked from broken play and found a gap in the Bulls’ defence allowing Mvovo to score what turned out to be the match winner.
Not that the Bulls gave it to them on a platter.
From the returning kick-off the home side managed to get their hands on the ball and, with less than four minutes left to play, Francois Hougaard brought his side right back into the match.
The Bulls could, however, not get the three points they needed as the Sharks pack continued to stand strong in one of the most physical matches of the season.SUPERXV.com