The Vodacom Bulls survived two yellow cards and a spirited fightback from the Lions to win a Currie Cup shootout at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
The Lions fielded a team loaded with Vodacom United Rugby Championship campaigners against a Bulls side missing key players that are set to jet off to Swansea for a clash with Ospreys on Friday. The bookies consequently had the visitors pegged as favourites, but the Bulls defied the odds with a 43-37 victory.
The hosts powered into a 35-10 lead before a late try from Lions skipper Burger Odendaal had the visitors jogging off for a half-time break spent contemplating an 18-point deficit.
The thinking time was put to good use as the Lions scored three tries after the break to cut the Bulls advantage to one point, but Odendaal went from hero to zero when he attempted an offload in-goal and Bulls finisher Richard Kriel intercepted to score the walk-off try.
Bulls captain Lizo Gqoboka opened the scoring after crashing over early in the first half with Juan Mostert slotting the conversion. The Lions hit back through lock Ruben Schoeman, who found himself in all kinds of space to go over for the score with Jordan Hendrikse converting to level at 7-7.
Bismarck du Plessis scored the Bulls’ second converted try to put the home side back into the lead before Lions captain Odendaal got sent to the bin and the Bulls capitalised with two subsequent tries – one apiece for wing David Kriel and lock Janko Swanepoel to extend their lead to 28-10.
Odendaal’s return to the field was negated by a questionable yellow card dished out to Stean Pienaar. Stedman Gans scored the Bulls’ fifth of the first half shortly after and stand-in kicker Keagan Johannes added the two.
The Bulls were reduced to 14 when flank Reinhardt Ludwig was next to be sent to the bin. Odendaal made amends for his early indiscretion by scoring for the Lions in first-half overtime and Hendrikse kicked the conversion to take the half-time score to 35-17 in favour of the Bulls.
The second half opened with yet another yellow card, bringing the match tally to four, as it was Du Plessis’ turn to leave the field. The first two tries of the second forty belonged to the Lions as Francke Horn scored the first and Hendrikse the second.
Sensing a possible comeback and first victory of the competition, the Lions kept hammering away with their forward pack and were rewarded through Sibusiso Sangweni’s try to make it a four-point ball game. With five minutes left, Hendrikse hit a well-struck penalty to take the away side within one point.
Dashing any hopes of a comeback, Odendaal accidently passed the ball to Kriel in a moment of pure panic who accepted the gift with open arms and dotted down for the win.