Smith drops in for thrilling Bulls victory
MATCH REPORT: Flyhalf Chris Smith slotted an injury-time drop-goal for the Bulls to advance to the United Rugby Championship semifinals.
In the brutal, but thrilling quarterfinal at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday the Bulls edged the Sharks 30-27.
With time up on the clock and the scorers level at 27-all – three tries, three conversions and two penalties each – a silly penalty by the Sharks saw the Bulls work their way into the visitors’ 22-metre area, from where Smith landed a sweetly-struck drop-goal for the victory.
* To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!
It was physical contest from the outset, the Sharks winning an early scrum penalty inside the Bulls’ half – Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch opening the scoring.
The breakdown contest was particularly brutal in the opening exchanges, while the scrums continued to be a mess.
Despite the Sharks dominating possession and territory in the first 10 minutes, the Bulls got the first try – against the run of play. Madosh Tambwe finished off a hack-ahead by fullback Canan Moodie, who intercepted a sloppy Sharks pass.
However, the Sharks replied immediately with a powerful maul that saw Mbongeni Mbonambi getting the armchair ride.
The Sharks were penalised and marched 20 metres for repeatedly inflaming a handbag situation by chirping and charging in, also kicking the ball away – allowing Chris Smith to level the scores.
The game became a bit scrappy, as the Bulls worked their way back into a contest initially dominated by the visitors.
On the half-hour mark the Sharks were penalised for blocking, Smith putting the Bulls reclaimed the lead for the home team, – 13-10.
A couple of minutes short of half-time the Bulls were penalised for ‘jumping across’ at a line-out, Bosch leveling up the scores (13-all) – which was the score at the break.
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The Bulls opened the second half scoring – captain Marcell Coetzee going over after a series of forward charges inside the Sharks 22.
Beginning to dominate the possession and territory stats, the Bulls launched another series of forward raids into the Sharks 22 – centre Cornal Hendricks running a sublime line to finish off a clinical period of play by the home side.
The Sharks were not done yet. Upping the tempo they exposed the Bulls’ already stretched defence out wide, scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse sniping over from close range to help narrow the gap to seven points again – 20-27.
With the breakdown contest still a massive arm-wrestle, the Bulls were saved by a couple of crucial counter-rucks near their owen line.
However, the Sharks turned up the heat even more and five minutes from time replacement Sikhumbuzo Notshe went over for the visitors’ third try, a great team effort – making it 27-all.
More breakdown bravery saved the Bulls, after the Sharks again found space out wide.
With full-time up on the clock, a penalty allowed the Bulls to work their way into the Sharks 22, from where a number of brutal phases saw the Bulls set up a position for flyhalf Chris Smith to kick the match-winning drop-goal.
Man of the Match
Smith, who kicked 15 points in total, will take the headlines after the dramatic climax to this clash at Loftus Versfeld. However, it was Bulls lock Walt Steenkamp who scooped the individual honour for his tireless work in the Bulls pack.
Play of the match
There can only be one candidate here. As the clock ticked beyond 80 minutes and the Bulls turned up the pressure on the Sharks, there were a number of knowing glances between scrumhalf Embrose Papier and flyhalf Smith, seemingly waiting for the perfect moment to make their play for the win. When that moment arrived, both men did their jobs to perfection, booking their team a semifinal berth.
For the Bulls
Tries: Tambwe, Coetzee, Hendricks
Cons: Smith 3
Pens: Smith 2
For the Sharks
Tries: Mbonambi, Hendrikse, Notshe
Cons: Bosch 3
Pens: Bosch 2
Bulls: 15 Canan Moodie, 14 David Kriel, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Izak Burger, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Robert Hunt, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Reinhardt Ludwig, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Stedman Gans.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Thomas du Toit (captain), 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Henry Chamberlain, 23 Ben Tapuai.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
* Additional reporting by @URCOfficial