Sharks replacement Butch James kicked a 78th-minute penalty to allow his side to sneak home an 18-16 win over the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and remain at the top of the Absa Currie Cup standings.
In a game which was littered with mistakes, and hardly one for the ages, James made up for the yellow card he got at the same ground in Vodacom Super Rugby this year, and slotted the easiest of kicks to see his team home in an ill-mannered affair.
But they had to overcome two yellow cards in the process and an unhappy relationship with referee Marius van der Westhuizen to get home and keep themselves on course to finish top of the log and gain an elusive home semi and possibly final.
The Bulls did score the only try of the match – during a 10-point surge when Jean Deysel was off the field – but were nowhere near street-smart enough to get on top on the night and will once again rue a game they could have won.
The decisive penalty came from a ruck where Paul Willemse looked to have gotten to the ball first, but was adjudged not to be supporting his own weight, allowing James to simply stab the ball home for the victory.
On the night the Sharks were the better side, but they really made heavy weather of their early advantage as flyhalf Fred Zeilinga missed two easy opening shots before getting his team on the board.
While both sides tries desperately to attack, the mistakes abounded and left the first half as a ding-dong affair between Zeilinga and Handre Pollard’s boots.
Of course, the Bulls may well rue the fact that they didn’t take two early kickable penalties, but Pollard also missed an easy chance in front of the posts on a difficult night for the kickers.
Zeilinga had the Sharks 12-6 up – with the Bulls failing to capitalise from Jacques Botes’s 10 minutes on the sideline for repeated infringements – before the second yellow to Deysel – also for repeated infringements – evened things up.
The Bulls attacked directly, before spinning the ball to midfielder Francois Venter, who burrowed between three defenders to plant the ball over the line, and Pollard’s conversion put the Bulls ahead.
Another Pollard penalty made it a fou- point ball game before James pulled it back to a one-point match with less than 10 minutes to go.
But despite their fightback, the Bulls were on the back foot when the Sharks put the phases together and the penalty came eventually, giving James a chance to right his own wrong from a few months ago.
He made no mistake, giving the Bulls no happiness for their fightback, and probably ending their Currie Cup hopes this year.
The home side have one more chance next week when they face Free State in Bloemfontein, but it is unlikely. With too many points dropped at home, and a young side that has struggled to sustain any momentum in the competition, this might be as good as it gets for the Bulls.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Try: Francois Venter. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (3).
Sharks – Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (4), Butch James (2).