The Bulls extended their Super Rugby revival and condemned the table-topping Sharks to their first defeat of the season as the hosts ran out 23-19 winners from a tense South African derby on Saturday.
Although the Sharks led 13-6 after a dominant first half, flanker Jacques du Plessis and center J.J. Engelbrecht scored tries to give the Bulls a seven-point lead 14 minutes into the second half.
Francois Steyn’s monster boot slotted two long penalties to make it a one-point game with nine minutes to play.
After Steyn missed an attempted dropped goal, substitute Handre Pollard notched a penalty to give the Bulls their third win on the trot.
The Sharks remained on top of the table and were left to lament the early loss of scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and flyhalf Patrick Lambie.
While Lambie departed with an injury after five minutes, Reinach contributed to the opening try of the game when his break led to flanker Willem Alberts crashing over.
That was Reinach’s final input though, as the veteran Charl McLeod came on in his place and the inexperienced Tim Swiel replaced Lambie.
“In any side, your nine and 10 play a big role and you don’t want to lose them in the first five minutes in a game like this,” Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis said. “They were a big loss for us.”
The Bulls hit back with a penalty and a dropped goal from flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, but Steyn responded with a couple of giant penalties to restore the Sharks’ seven-point lead going into the break.
However, the game turned in the 48th when Bulls flanker Du Plessis unexpectedly burst through two tackles to score, and Potgieter’s conversion put the hosts level.
Six minutes later, winger Bjorn Basson broke from inside his own half, and the ball was recycled and spread wide for Engelbrecht to put the Bulls in front.
Another brace of penalties from Steyn — one of them from inside his own half and on the angle — took the game down to the wire.
When the Springbok missed a shot at a dropped goal three minutes later, the Sharks’ chance had passed, and Pollard made the game secure.
“The Sharks have got a lot of superstars in their team, so we’ve spoken about the unit, and I think every guy in the team stood up tonight and played for each other,” Bulls captain Victor Matfield said. “We saw real commitment out there.”