The Golden Lions beat the Vodacom Blue Bulls 36-28 at Loftus on Saturday, having led 30-0 late in the first half. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Both sides came into this top-of-the-log Currie Cup clash having won their first five matches, with the winner set to emerge as tournament front-runners.
While it was the Lions who claimed a crucial victory away from home, which takes them four points clear of their Gauteng rivals, it wasn't as convincing as they might have expected at one stage.
The visitors ran riot in the first 35 minutes, scoring three tries, before the hosts responded with four of their own to reduce the deficit to just five points with 12 minutes to go. But Marnitz Boshoff's 78th-minute penalty, his fourth of the match, secured the result for his relieved side.
This really was a game of two halves.
It took the Lions just two minutes to score the opening try. Having lost their first lineout, the visitors won a tighthead at the first scrum, with the ball going through the hands to the right-hand side of the field. It then came back to Boshoff, whose cross-kick to the left corner was collected by Courtnall Skosan. Boshoff kicked the conversion and then added a penalty.
The Lions continued to dominate and came close to scoring on two occasions. First, Andries Coetzee broke away and kicked ahead for Skosan, but Travis Ismaiel was just able to get a hand to the ball first. Then, Jacques van Rooyen was held up over the line following a sustained attack.
After taking the ball through several phases yet again, Boshoff slotted a drop goal to give the Lions some reward for that period of pressure.
The visitors did cross the line again, in the 24th minute, when a poor pass from Marcel van der Merwe was picked up by Howard Mnisi, who put Franco Mostert away. Once again Boshoff's conversion was followed by a penalty as the Lions led 23-0.
Another Bulls' mistake then resulted in another Lions' try, with Dries Swanepoel's pass being intercepted by Ruan Combrinck, who raced away to score next to the posts.
The hosts finally stopped the rot a minute after the half-time hooter when Warrick Gelant put Jamba Ulengo away for his seventh try of the tournament.
During his half-time TV interview, Bulls coach Nollis Marais referred to his side's performance as 'horrible', so he must have really let rip in the change room. Whatever he said had the desired effect.
While Boshoff's third penalty put the Lions 33-7 ahead, the Bulls hit back with two converted tries from Arno Botha and Deon Stegmann, who both went over from close range, to make it 33-21. The Bulls substitutes made a big impact, but none more so than Stegmann, who was excellent with ball in hand and at the breakdown.
Gelant and Ulengo then showed great soccer skills inside the right-hand touchline, with the latter dotting down in the corner for the Bulls' bonus-point try.
But it wouldn't be enough, as Boshoff's late penalty gave the Lions an eight-point cushion.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Jamba Ulengo (2), Arno Botha, Deon Stegmann. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (4).
Golden Lions – Tries: Courtnall Skosan, Franco Mostert, Ruan Combrinck. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (3). Penalties: Boshoff (4). Drop goal: Boshoff.
Blue Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (c), 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Deon Stegmann, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Burger Odendaal.
Golden Lions – Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Stephan de Witt, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 MB Lusaseni, 19 Kwagga Smith, 20 Jaco van der Walt, 21 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Sampie Mastriet.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images