With the Sharks dominating the final quarter and the Bulls’ chances on the wane, coach Jake White had much on his mind in the last 10 minutes of their gripping United Rugby Championship quarterfinal at Loftus Versfeld at the weekend.
While the 58-year-old coach admitted that the tense finish had aged him, he too found it a thrilling spectacle.
He had considered bringing on finisher supreme Morne Steyn, but with the scores locked at 27-27 and the final hooter having blown, that horse had bolted.
Starting flyhalf Chris Smith, however, managed to kick an 84th-minute drop goal to put the Bulls into the semi-finals.
White said he had believed they would win, though the drop goal was an unexpected conclusion.
“I didn’t think for one moment about a drop goal. I thought they’d score a try, like Cornal Hendricks did earlier,” White said after the game.
“The players had the belief and the desire to keep working. All credit to them for summing up the situation, although Chris said to me afterwards that he was terrified. But he’s not the first ‘Northern Transvaal’ flyhalf to kick a match-winning drop goal.
“In the first half, Chris had tried a crosskick in our own 22, which just shows that sometimes you make good decisions and sometimes you don’t. I was actually thinking of bringing Morne on, but as it turned out I kept the right guy on the field.”
Typical of a knockout derby match, the quarterfinal between the sides that finished fourth and fifth on the final URC log saw both teams endure up-and-down fortunes.
The Bulls had to weather a poor start and a storming finish by the Sharks, and the visitors had to fight back from conceding two tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half to fall 27-13 behind.
“We did not start well and gave the Sharks 10 points through our own mistakes,” White said.
“I looked at the scoreboard clock and it said nine-and-a-half minutes and we hadn’t had the ball yet.
“Hopefully when we are more experienced we will understand the importance of holding on to the ball and not giving it away so easily,” he added.
“After the first half, I told the team we hadn’t played, we were hardly in the Sharks half and we hardly had the ball. I told them to make sure we start playing, and when we did, we looked outstanding at times.
“But I always knew it was going to be tough. The Sharks have nine Springboks in their starting line-up, five World Cup winners, so it was always going to go to the wire.”