Manie Libbok contributed 17 points as the Blue Bulls recorded a 34-12 bonus-point victory over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The Bulls’ brain trust will be beaming after clinching a crucial away win over a star-studded Cheetahs lineup in what was both sides’ opening game of the competition.
The visitors’ defence held up well throughout the match and there were flashes of brilliance from several individuals in attack. However, it is the character shown in the second half by this relatively young squad that should please coach Pote Human, especially after playing second fiddle to the hosts in the opening half.
With Currie Cup fixtures slashed to a single round of matches, every result is vital for the eight participating teams. But this defeat takes even greater relevance for the Cheetahs in terms of their title aspirations, when you consider that their squad will soon be depleted as the vast majority of their first-choice players will go on Pro14 duty.
In short, this wasn’t a flawless performance from the Bulls, but it was an improvement on what the Cheetahs dished up. Libbok was in fine form for the visitors, scoring a try, three conversions and two penalties. His tactical kicking was also near-perfect as he turned the Cheetahs’ defence more often than not.
Kick-off was delayed when the Cheetahs were forced to change into their traditional orange strip after the referee deemed their white jerseys clashed with those of the Bulls’ sky blue and white.
When play did get under way, the Cheetahs made an emphatic start. After winning a scrum penalty against the feed, the hosts – with sheer pace and precision – attacked down the blindside and Joseph Dweba bustled his way over for the first try.
The Bulls hit back through Libbok, who had the easiest of run-ins thanks to Jamba Ulengo’s offload. But the rest of the first half morphed into a cagey affair marred by poor execution and missed opportunities.
The Cheetahs made a similar start to the second half, but wing Rabz Maxwane’s try in the left corner was overturned as he was in touch before grounding the ball. They didn’t have to wait long to get a try, though, with replacement scrumhalf Shaun Venter darting around the ruck to go over for a good solo effort.
However, the Bulls gradually started to exert their physicality at the set pieces and when the Cheetahs were penalised, Libbok slotted his first penalty to close the gap to two points.
What followed was utter domination by the Bulls as they were awarded a penalty try, followed by scores from Jade Stighling and Divan Rossouw, whose effort in the final minute secured maximum log points for his side.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Joseph Dweba, Shaun Venter. Conversion: Tian Schoeman.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Manie Libbok, Penalty try, Jade Stighling, Divan Rossouw. Conversions: Libbok (3), Automatic conversion. Penalties: Libbok (2).
FS Cheetahs – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Rabz Maxwane, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Nico Lee, 11 William Small-Smith, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje (c), 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Erich de Jager, 18 Günther Janse van Vuuren, 19 Dennis Visser, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Louis Fouché.
Blue Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 JT Jackson, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Conrad van Vuuren, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Matthys Basson.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Hendre Stassen, 19 Jano Venter, 20 Theo Maree, 21 Tony Jantjies, 22 Earll Douwrie.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images