The Sharks opened their 2020 Super Rugby campaign with a hard-fought 23-15 victory over the Bulls at Kings Park Stadium, Durban.
The victory was the Sharks’ first in 10 matches against the Bulls going back to a 16-all draw in 2016 and was also Head Coach Sean Everitt’s maiden Super Rugby win in his Super Rugby game in charge.
Two tries from Sbu Nkosi and a last-gasp try from 21-year-old scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba saw the Sharks win the South African derby against a disappointing Bulls side, who did not cross the try-line.
Curwin Bosch kicked three penalties and two conversions for a match haul of 13 points.
The 22-year-old flyhalf also had a hand in Nkosi’s try thanks to a well-weighted cross-field kick.
Morne Steyn kicked all his team’s points, but his team’s blunt attack and poor finishing proved costly.
The first half was a stop-start affair, dominated by the boot of returning Bulls legend Steyn playing in his 125th Super Rugby game.
The 35-year-old kicked two penalties and a drop-goal to cancel out Bosch’s two penalties; however, the veteran’s boot was all the Bulls offered as the home team took control in the second half.
Nkosi crossed soon after the delayed restart for a power outage, and Bosch kicked a conversion and penalty to make it a two-score ball-game going into the final quarter.
Super Rugby Video Highlights: Sharks versus Bulls, Kings Park, Durban
Steyn reduced the deficit to four with a 61st-minute penalty to keep Pote Human’s men in the hunt.
He had another opportunity, with 11 minutes left, to make it a one-point game, but his kick was well short of the target.
However, Steyn made no mistake with a 77th-minute goal to set up a nervy finish.
But debutant Nohamba’s magic won the contest for the hosts with seconds remaining from a first-phase attack inside the Bulls’ 22.
The former Durban High School pupil’s try allowed Bosch an easy conversion to take away a losing bonus-point from the opposition.
The first-half was a stodgy affair as both teams struggled with ball-in-hand and a lack of creativity
The first half was a stop-start affair, dominated by the boot of returning Bulls legend Steyn, who kicked two penalties and a drop-goal to cancel out Bosch’s two three-pointers.
The former Springboks flyhalf controlled the game, pinning the home team inside their half and forcing them to attack from deep.
Steyn opened the scoring with a second-minute penalty after the Sharks messed up the kick-off.
Bosch levelled, five minutes later, after new boy James Venter won a turnover at the breakdown.
Both coaches opted for the tactical kicking-game when in possession inside their half.
The Sharks struggled to get out of their half, when they did, the butchered a couple of half chances and one clear-cut opportunity that should have been seven points.
Aphelele Fassi took Steyn’s high ball, ducked a tackle from Rosco Specman, and raced away to the Bulls 22 where Steyn tackled him.
The flyhalf smoked the fullback, which should have played the support runner on his inside. Excellent work, but poor decision-making by Fassi, and a try went begging.
The field was cutting up, causing both front rows to lose their footing.
It was the Bulls who won the first scrum-penalty, but the Sharks, the second, which led to Bosch putting his side in front on 17 minutes.
The aerial ping-pong continued as the teams sparred. A Specman break led to a penalty after Sibusiso Nkosi fell foul of the referee.
Vintage Steyn the difference as the Bulls come from behind to take a slender halftime lead
Steyn, from 45 metres out, levelled, the ball just dropping over the crossbar.
The Sharks had another excellent opportunity, going through the phases inside the Bulls’ 22, but another handling error saw the chance go begging.
The Bulls squandered a couple of attacking lineouts before the break, but with the clock ticking down, Steyn dropped back into the pocket and slotted a sweet drop-goal to put his side ahead.
Power delay helps Sharks and hinders Bulls as hosts restart with a bang
The second half was delayed by 10 minutes due to a power failure at the ground.
The crowd took the delay in good humour, waving their smartphones around while music played over the sound system.
The Bulls seemed to be still in the changeroom. Specman was caught napping, letting Bosch’s crossfield kick bounce inside the in-goal area.
Nkosi, sensing an opportunity, chased the kick, and capitalised on Specman’s sloppiness to dot down for the game’s first try on 44 minutes.
The Sharks were caught napping themselves after the restart.
Cornal Hendricks knocked a bouncing ball forward in the in-goal area a minute later when it seemed easier to score.
The Sharks 10 landed the sideline conversion to give his team a 13-9 lead.
He landed his fourth kick of the game, from a distance, extending the lead to seven after Bulls skipper Burger Oudendaal was penalised at the breakdown.
Bulls stay in the hunt, but Nohamba’s late dagger leaves the visitors without a bonus-point
Steyn eschewed a chance of three points a few minutes before opting to take a shot at goal at the beginning of the final quarter.
He pulled his team back to within a try with 19 minutes remaining.
Makazole Mapimpi had another chance, but once again, could not find the right pass or beat the last defender.
Embrose Papier danced his way from his try-line to near halfway, which led to a penalty on halfway. Steyn called for the tee in an attempt to make it a one-point game.
The stand-off got under his kick, attempting too much power, and the ball dropped safely in the middle of the Sharks’ 22.
Mapimpi dropped an intercept a few minutes later, which would have put the game to bed for Everitt’s side.
Steyn reduced the gap to one with three minutes to play to set up a tight finish, but Warrick Gelant’s clearance from the restart ricocheted off his team-mate, giving the Sharks an attacking lineout.
The young scrumhalf came off the bench and sealed the game with a thrilling finish from an attacking scrum in the last minute to cap a sensational Super Rugby debut.
Final Score: Sharks 23 (6) Bulls 15 (9)
Tries – Nkosi, Nohamba
Pen – Bosch (3)
Con – Bosch (2)
Pen – Steyn (4)
Drop – Steyn
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Ref 1: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Ref 2: Egon Seconds
TMO: Marius Jonker
15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Le Roux Roets, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Jeremy Ward.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (C), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Jeandré Rudolph, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Ryno Pieterse, 21 Wian Vosloo, 22 Embrose Papier, 23 Manie Libbok.