Defending champions the Vodacom Blue Bulls and the Free State both got their U21 Championship campaigns off to a winning start at Ellis Park on Sunday.
The Free State Cheetahs U21 recorded a dramatic 31-30 victory in the final play of their match over the Lions to start their season on a high, while defending champions the Blue Bulls used their forwards pack to subdue Western Province in a 36-25 win, scoring six tries.
The opening round in Johannesburg provided 17 tries in the two matches, but it was the driving mauls in both encounters that dominated proceedings.
The Free Staters scored three of their tries – including the match-winner – from a maul, while the Vodacom Blue Bulls also used their drives to great effect as they outplayed their Cape Town counterparts.
The Pretoria side held a slender 12-6 lead at the break, but scored three tries in quick succession early in the second half to take a 29-6 lead after 55 minutes, which all but sealed the deal for the defending champions.
The Capetonians came back gamely from that salvo, with their Blitzbok wing Angelo Davids coming off the bench and scoring a hat-trick, providing them with some reward for their scratchy effort.
Bulls wing Stravino Jacobs grabbed a brace of tries, scoring in each half.
In Sunday’s second match, Free State No 8 Gideon van Wyk scored a late winner to help them claim a thrilling victory over hosts the Lions.
The home side scored three tries to the Free State’s five, but created most of their scoreboard pressure through flyhalf Marc Morrison, who kicked three conversions and three penalties to keep the Lions in the lead for most of the match.
The Sharks, who had a bye on Sunday, take on the Lions in round two on Thursday, while in the early matchup the Vodacom Blue Bulls will take on Free State, with Western Province having a break. Both matches are scheduled to be streamed live by SuperSport on its DStv Now platform.
Blue Bulls (36) – Tries: Stravino Jacobs (2), Diego Appolis, Joe van Zyl, Johan Mulder, Eduan Swart. Conversions: Ruben Beytell (2), Jay-Cee Nel.
Western Province (25) – Tries: Angelo Davids (3). Conversions: Kade Wolhuter (2). Penalties: Ruan Mostert (2).
Free State – Tries: Gideon van Wyk (2), Janus Venter, Cornel Korff, Shayne Bolton. Conversions: Charles Williams (2), Franco Smith.
Lions – Tries: James Mollentze, Mark Snyman, Ebot Buma. Conversions: Marc Morrison (3). Penalties: Morrison (3).
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images