The Blue Bulls produced a scintillating show of running rugby to beat the Pumas 39-29 in Pretoria on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The hosts, who were caused problems throughout the match by the Pumas, were ultra-clinical, with wing Jade Stighling claiming a brace among their six tries; they now temporarily climb to the top of the table.
The Bulls go into a month-long bye and will now hope that they have done enough to stay in the top four for the time being as they next face Western Province on 13 October.
For the Pumas, the loss represents another missed opportunity to stun one of the bigger sides but it was definitely not for a lack of trying as they pushed the Bulls right until the end of the match and claimed a bonus point of their own.
Pumas flyhalf Chris Smith slotted an early penalty to put his side ahead. However, the Bulls struck back almost immediately as captain Hanro Liebenberg reached over for the opening try, before some excellent interchanging between forwards and backs put Stighling through minutes later.
Bulls centre Jonny Kotze then saw yellow for an early hit on Smith. That gave the visitors a sniff but instead it was the Bulls who scored when prop Dayan van der Westhuizen, who had made a turnover on his own line minutes earlier, was on hand to finish another brilliant move.
The Pumas then turned to their maul, which produced two tries for them as flank Marnus Schoeman and hooker Marko Janse van Rensburg scored to bring the visitors back into it.
However, the Bulls claimed the ball from the restart and stretched their lead as Stighling drove over for his brace. Manie Libbok kicked a late penalty in the half to see his side take a 27-17 lead.
The hosts managed to put some distance between them and the visitors when a clever variation at a lineout freed up hooker Cobus Visage who popped the ball inside to scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl to finish.
The Pumas just would not give in and scored their third when their own variation from a set piece saw speedy wing Ruwellyn Isbell put Neil Maritz clear out wide to score.
However, the Bulls piled the pressure on in the closing stages and despite two tryline turnovers from Schoeman, the hosts managed to seal the game when an excellent counter-attack and offload from Duncan Matthews saw replacement Jano Venter show his pace to sprint clear for a try.
The Pumas had the final say of the match as they went coast-to-coast when Isbell was freed up on the right wing and put a pass inside to Morné Joubert who stepped past a would-be tackler to score.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Hanro Liebenberg, Jade Stighling (2), Dayan van der Westhuizen, Ivan van Zyl, Jano Venter. Conversions: Manie Libbok (3). Penalty: Libbok.
Pumas – Tries: Marnus Schoeman, Marko Janse van Rensburg, Neil Maritz, Morné Joubert. Conversions: Chris Smith (3). Penalty: Smith.
Blue Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Jonny Kotze, 12 Franco Naude, 11 Duncan Matthews, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Nic de Jager, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Eli Snyman, 4 Hendré Stassen, 3 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Matthys Basson.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Conrad van Vuuren, 18 Ruan Nortje, 19 Jano Venter, 20 André Warner, 21 Tinus de Beer, 22 Dylan Sage.
Pumas – 15 Devon Williams, 14 Morné Joubert, 13 Neil Maritz, 12 Ryan Nell, 11 Ruwellyn Isbell, 10 Christopher Smith, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Hugo Kloppers (c), 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Andrew Beerwinkel, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Hilton Lobberts, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Abrie Griesel, 21 Kobus Marais, 22 Henko Marais.
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images