Despite a late red card the Sharks held on to secure a tough 13-12 victory over the Blue Bulls at a rain-drenched Kings Park on Friday.
Yet again heavy rain pounded down onto Kings Park in Durban. There was some thunder. The 'crowd' was largely under cover and there was increasing surface water for the players to splash around in. Kings Park was a vlei.
The fact of the matter is that the Sharks scored two tries and one point more than the Blue Bulls and so won this sodden match. Both the tries were exciting ones from a distance out. The Blue Bulls got closer to scoring with the Sharks but their one-man phases failed, even when the Sharks were reduced to 14 men.
John Plumtree, the Sharks' coached, made pre-match changes to suit the wet. Riaan Viljoen was brought from fullback to flyhalf with Meyer Bosman shunting to inside centre and Paul Jordaan out onto the left wing while Louis Ludik went to fullback. Viljoen did not have a happy day but Ludik was as wonderful as he always is and Jordaan scampered away for a try.
With 10 minutes to play, Pieter Dixon was sent off for the reckless use of the boot which found its way into the face of Arno Botha. The TMO was called in for his opinion and a dumfounded Dixon was sent from the field, an act which will have surprised the whole of the rugby world that knows the amiable hooker.
Rain, red cards and Durban seem to go together. Two sopping wet matches there have produced three red cards.
In the first half the Blue Bulls looked likely to get on top as their forwards bashed ahead and the Sharks struggled to win line-outs .
The Bulls scored first when Louis Fouché kicked an unlikely dropped goal. It looked far too low but somehow it swung upwards when it mattered and over the crossbar. 3-0 after 3 minutes.
The Blue Bulls attacked but lost the ball, not for the only time in the match. The Sharks counterattacked.
Then Viljoen kicked an up-'n-under and Jurgen Visser caught it as he did every time but this time a maul formed some 30 metres from the Sharks' line and suddenly Jordaan burst away with the ball tucked under his arm to score in the left corner. 5-3 after 21 minutes.
But Fouché got his side ahead with two more penalties in a half when the Sharks were penalised five times, the Blue Bulls not at all. (In the second half the Blue Bulls were penalised six times, the Sharks once.)
CJ Stander was penalised at a tackle early in the second half, the first penalty conceded by the Blue Bulls. Viljoen kicked out for a line-out just inside the Blue Bulls half. The Sharks won a deep throw and Cobus Reinach burst inside Jano Vermaak at the back of the line-out, raced away from Franco Mostert and sped down the field.
Sampie Mastriet tackled Reinach but he popped the ball up to his charging captain Keegan Daniel who raced for the right corner. He handed off Stander and swirled in Visser's tackle for a splashdown try. It was a great try. The Sharks now led 10-90 after 46 minutes.
Dewald Potgieter was penalised for a shoulder-only tackle and Bosman goaled. 13-9 after 52 minutes.
The Blue Bulls were looking the more likely to score. Akona Ndungane caught a Vermaak up-'n-under to set them on the attack but Fouché missed a drop attempt for the second time.
Ludik had a magnificent run in counterattack but back came the Blue Bulls, bashing through 18 phases till they were held up over the line. It was in this action that Dixon received his improbable red card. Fouché goaled the resultant penalty. 13-12 with 10 minutes to play and a one-man advantage for the team desperate to win.
The Blue Bulls again went through plodding phases till a Daniel tackle forced a turnover and when Potgieter was penalised at a tackle after the siren Viljoen tapped the ball out for a watery victory.
Man of the Match: Keegan Daniel and Louis Ludik were heroes but our choice is Cobus Reinach. Such weather makes it hard to be a scrumhalf but his passing was top quality, his kicking top quality and he made the try of the match.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Jordaan, Daniel
For the Blue Bulls:
Pens: Fouche 3
Red card: Dixon (Foul play, 70 mins)
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Paul Jordaan, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 S'bura Sithole.
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Bongo Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ruan Snyman, 21 Lionel Cronjé, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Assistants: Ben Crouse, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Johann Meuwesen