The Sharks beat a 14-man Blue Bulls team 48-40 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
After Western Province’s defeat to the Free State Cheetahs in the earlier game, the Sharks only needed a point to advance to the play-offs, but they ended up with five.
The Sharks will now face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in one of the semifinals, while the Golden Lions will host Griquas in the other play-off.
Both the Sharks and the Bulls scored six tries during the 80 minutes, but the visitors were helped by the red card Bulls centre Johnny Kotze received in the 38th minute.
The Sharks opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a three-pointer from scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba.
But their lead did not last long after Johnny Kotze finished off a counterattack to score his team’s first try in the 10th minute. Manie Libbok was successful with the conversion to give his team a five-point lead.
Nohamba got the Sharks to within one point of the Bulls in the 15th minute with another penalty.
However, the Bulls hit back in the 19th minute when Lizo Gqoboka stretched over for his team’s second try. Libbok added the extra two points to give his team an eight-point lead.
The Sharks were not going to let the Bulls get away from them and they got their first try in the 27th minute when prop Thomas du Toit crashed over the tryline after sustained pressure.
Nohamba converted the try to make it a one-point ball game again.
The see-saw nature of the game continued after that with Manie Libbok scoring a converted try before Sharks hit back with a try from Jacques Vermeulen in the 34th minute. Nohamba added the two points with the conversion.
The Sharks were then given a major boost in the game when Kotze received a red card for a dangerous tackle on Kobus van Wyk in the 38th minute.
To rub salt into the Bulls’ wounds, Andre Esterhuizen scored the Sharks’ third try just before the break.
At half-time, the Sharks were leading 27-21.
Things got worse for the Blue Bulls in the opening minutes of the second half when Jeremy Ward chased down a JP Pietersen grubber to score his team’s bonus-point try.
A few minutes after Van Wyk ran in for an easy try after some great running by Aphelele Fassi in the midfield.
Nohamba converted both tries and the Sharks had a handy 20-point lead heading into the final 30 minutes of the game.
There was a little bit of hope for the Bulls when wing Cornal Hendricks ran in for a converted try in the 51st minute.
Things then got nervy for the Sharks in the 68th minute when Ruan Steenkamp crashed over for a try for the Bulls.
Libbok’s conversion attempt was surprising charged down. That extra two points would have brought his team to within eight points of the Sharks.
However, the Bulls’ hopes of winning the game was well and truly ended in the 74th minute when Rhyno Smith scored a converted try.
The Pretoria side did have the final say on the scoreboard with a late Tim Agaba try.
Man of the match: Aphelele Fassi was a constant threat with ball in hand and he deserves the award.
For Blue Bulls:
Tries: Kotze, Gqoboka, Libbok, Hendricks, Steenkamp, Agaba
Cons: Libbok 5, Isaacs
Tries: Du Toit, Vermeulen, Esterhuizen, Ward, Van Wyk, Smith
Cons: Nohamba 5, Smith
Pens: Nohamba 2
Red card: Johnny Kotze (Blue Bulls, 38 – foul play, Dangerous/high tackle)
Blue Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl (captain), 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Corne Els, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Vaughen Isaacs, 23 Stedman Gans.
Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward (co-captain), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Boeta Chamberlain, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Tera Mtembu (co-captain), 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Richardson, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 JP Pietersen.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant referees: Paul Mente, Phumzile Mbewu
TMO: Johan Greeff
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