Bulls sub Botha sinks Sharks in Currie Cup final thriller

·2-min read
Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen (C) prepares to scrum against the Sharks last October during a South African Super Rugby Unlocked match in Pretoria.

Former London Irish and Munster flanker Arno Botha scored 73 seconds from the end of extra time to give the Bulls a 26-19 victory over the Sharks Saturday in a Currie Cup final thriller.

A 19-phase attack by the Pretoria outfit ended with the substitute barging over the tryline to bring the most prized domestic trophy back to the Bulls after a 12-year absence.

It was the second try of the match for the 29-year-old former Springbok, who left the Bulls in 2017 for Europe, with the first bringing the pre-match favourites back into contention.

Although Sharks fly-half Curwin Bosch had an off-day with the boot, missing five kicks at goal, his side built a 19-9 lead 55 minutes into a title decider staged behind closed doors because of the coronavirus.

That advantage for the Durban side shrunk to just three points with 15 minutes remaining when a tap penalty by number eight and captain Duane Vermeulen set up Botha to score.

The Sharks retained the three-point lead until one minute from time when substitute fly-half Chris Smith kicked a penalty to take the final into 20 minutes of extra time.

Bosch and Smith missed penalty attempts during the additional time before Botha struck again to complete a double for coach Jake White.

Hired early last year in place of underachieving Pote Human, the 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks coach guided the Bulls to the South African Super Rugby Unlocked trophy last November.

"What a fantastic performance over 100 minutes," said Vermeulen, a key figure when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup a record equalling third time in 2019.

"I told my teammates to empty their tanks and that is exactly what they did. This team is a wonderful mix of experience and youth and we are looking forward to playing European clubs soon."

The Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Western Province will face Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh opponents between April and June in the Rainbow Cup -- a dry run before they enter a new-look Pro16 next season.

Sharks skipper and centre Lukhanyo Am was inconsolable after a final halted for 35 minutes during the first half because of lightning near the stadium.

"Our decision making could have been better at times. Losing is not the end of the world, but it feels like that right now."

The Bulls have won the Currie Cup 24 times, making them the second most successful side after Western Province with 34 triumphs.

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