Flyhalf Morne Steyn booted South African conference leaders the Bulls to a narrow 18-16 win over the Sharks in an attritional Super XV game in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday.
It was a sixth successive win for the Bulls, who are now just two points off the overall leadership of the competition with a game in hand on leaders the Waikato Chiefs.
However, the Bulls, almost assured of a home semi-final later in the competition, escaped with a vital away victory only through the kicking of Springboks flyhalf Steyn, who is soon to depart for France, as he underlined how much the Bulls will miss his deadly boot.
Steyn kicked six penalties from seven attempts and he is now the leading scorer in the Super XV this season with 181 points.
He showed his usual clam under pressure, no more so than with the decisive kick five minutes from time, just after the Sharks had gone back into the lead for the first time since the early stages of the match at Kings Park.
The hosts put together a passionate display in the final 10 minutes energized by the only try of a bruising match, a 71st-minute effort from scrumhalf Charl McLeod, characterized by ferocious tackling and fierce mauling.
McLeod managed to stretch the ball over the line and apply enough downward pressure to claim the try as he was being virtually swung around in a circle by a desperate Bulls defense.
It was no more than the Sharks deserved for their territorial control and superiority in the scrums, but it was not enough to secure them the result.
“But we didn’t convert enough of that pressure into points,” Sharks captain Keegan Daniel said in a post-match TV interview.
“We are bitterly disappointed to have lost the game, but the boys showed some great fight,” he said.
The Sharks stayed 10th on 34 points with only three games left.
CHEETAHS 34, KINGS 22
Center Johann Sadie scored two tries to lay the platform for the Cheetahs’ victory over the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on Saturday, a result that elevated them into the playoff places in the Super XV standings.
Scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, who got a double last week, and winger Willie le Roux scored the other tries as a patient Cheetahs side emphasized their credentials and grabbed a bonus point with a strong second-half performance after going into the break with a narrow 13-12 lead.
With both the Blues and Crusaders losing earlier in the weekend, the Cheetahs seized the chance to move up the table on the back of a dominant showing at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, scoring their first try just before halftime and adding three more after the break.
Sadie’s first try came on the stroke of halftime as an accumulation of pressure allowed Le Roux to burst through a gap at pace and feed Sadie for the score.
Ten minutes after the restart, a sniping break by Van Zyl added to the tally and was quickly followed by a second try for Sadie, who then turned provider to set up a well deserved try for Le Roux.
All four tries were converted by flyhalf Elgar Watts, who had also booted over two early penalties.
The Cheetahs have now won nine of their 13 matches.
It was another disappointing home defeat for the Southern Kings, who got a late consolation try from Argentine substitute Nicolas Vergallo with the last play of the match.
Flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis kicked five penalties just days after being named in a Springboks training squad ahead of three internationals next month.