The Blue Bulls picked up their first win of the season with a 30-25 victory over the EP Kings at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
Frans Ludeke was looking for a response from his team, and although it took some time, in the end he got it. When Kings loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka burst up the middle of the park to move his team into the lead early in the second half, an upset looked on the cards.
The Bulls' experience won out in the end, but it was the impact of young Jesse Kriel that would've brought the biggest smile to the beleaguered Ludeke's face.
The match had started well for the Bulls, with the visitors giving away a penalty from the kick-off, which was followed by another at the lineout and an unforced error from captain Luke Watson. It was an ominous beginning for the Kings and one that suggested the Bulls would have it all their way in the afternoon sun.
Tony Jantjies gave the Bulls the lead from one of the numerous penalties, as ill-discipline threatened to derail the Kings challenge before it got underway.
The Kings would find their feet, building up momentum while taking the ball through a number of phases. They would be rewarded for their continuity, with Shane Gates going over following some great hands by the Kings backs. Former SA Schools scrumhalf Kevin Luiters was heavily involved, as he was in everything good about the Kings' play.
The Bulls' response had a certain familiarity about it. Jantjies set up an attacking lineout on the Kings 22m line and the pack did the rest, with the Kings helpless to stop Deon Stegmann scoring from the rolling maul.
The Kings kept themselves in touching distance thanks to a Scott van Breda penalty, heading into the break 11-8 down. As with their previous matches, they showed some impressive phase play, but unforced errors halted their momentum at vital times.
Tony Jantijies saw yellow early in the second half, and was soon followed to the sin bin by Kings replacement hooker Mike van Vuuren.
It was in Van Vuuren's absence that the Bulls would finally gain some ascendancy, with Akona Ndungane notching up a brace.
Kriel looked to have made the game safe with his first Currie Cup try, but the Kings refused to lie down.
Van Vuuren scored from the kick-off to move the Kings within five and earn them a deserved bonus point. The relief was palpable at the final whistle as the Bulls finally broke their duck, although on evidence of this performance they are still a long way off from being play-off contenders.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Deon Stegmann, Akona Ndungane (2), Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Tony Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
EP Kings – Tries: Shane Gates, Lizo Gqoboka, Mike van Vuuren. Conversions: Scott van Breda (2). Penalties: Van Breda (2).
Blue Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann (c), 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Wiaan Liebenburg, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
EP Kings – 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Ronnie Cooke, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Luke Watson (c), 7 Paul Schoeman, 6 Stefan Willemse, 5 Steven Sykes, 4 Darron Nell, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Mike van Vuuren, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Steven Cummins, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Jaco Grobler, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Siyanda Grey.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images