Manie Libbok contributed 21 points to guide the Vodacom Blue Bulls to a riveting 31-26 win over the Golden Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Knowing another defeat will all but end their already slim hopes of reaching the playoffs, the Bulls pulled out what is undoubtedly their best performance of the season to sink the previously unbeaten Lions.
As it stands, the result is still not enough to get the Bulls into a playoff spot – at least not this week – while the Lions climb to the top of the standings courtesy of the two bonus points they collected.
The oft erratic Libbok featured prominently for the visitors as did former Blitzboks trio Cornal Hendricks, Dylan Sage and Rosko Specman as well as hooker Johan Grobbelaar.
In a breathless first half, the Bulls raced out to a 12-point lead after Hendricks scored what has to be one of the quickest Currie Cup tries ever when he dove over on the 25-second mark followed by a try from prop Dayan van der Westhuizen. Both scores were set up by Libbok.
Up to that point, the Lions looked out of their depth, playing with no urgency and zero attention to detail.
But with his team in complete control, a moment of sheer stupidity from debutant Fred Eksteen resulted in the debutant Bulls flank being shown a red card in the 18th minute.
With one of his teammates in possession, Eksteen recklessly, and needlessly, charged shoulder first into the head-and-neck area of Lions tackler Madosh Tambwe.
The act, which bore a striking resemblance to Scott Barrett’s on Michael Hooper in the Rugby Championship Test between the All Blacks and Wallabies earlier in the day, would also receive the same punishment as Eksteen was given his marching orders.
The Lions would immediately exploit the man-over advantage, as they responded with a try double to level the scores. The Lions would have taken the lead, but for a Shaun Reynolds miss from point blank in front.
The Bulls didn’t take kindly to having their lead erased and when they found their second wind they ran the hosts off their feet. The Bulls chalked up 13 unanswered points before the Lions managed to add to their tally again with a try.
Trailing 25-19, the Lions’ discipline continued to let them down. Libbok knocked over a third penalty to make it a nine-point game heading into the final quarter.
But when the Bulls were reduced to 13 players after ex-Lions lock Andries Ferreira was handed a yellow card, the hosts received another reprieve.
It was all Lions in the latter stages and while the Bulls initially defended valiantly, the defence disentegrated and wing Stean Pienaar scuttled away to score. Reynolds made sure of the conversion to get the Lions within two points.
Libbok again nailed a penalty, but with the Lions still within touching distance on the scoreboard, there was still time for the hosts to turn the game on its head.
The Lions won a penalty but Reynolds kicked the ball dead. However, they got another chance as the Bulls condeded another penalty at the subsequent scrum. This time Reynolds made sure he found touch to set a decent attacking platform.
With an overlap on the left-hand side of the field, Sage took one for the team when he deliberately slapped the ball down and received a yellow card for his effort.
The Lions again set the line, but their maul didn’t get far as the Bulls kept them at bay and won a scrum feed which prompted the referee to sound the final whistle and hand the visitors an extraordinary win.
Golden Lions – Tries: Penalty try, Shaun Reynolds, Pieter Janse, Stean Pienaar. Conversions: Automatic conversion, Shaun Reynolds (2).
Blue Bulls – Tries: Cornal Hendricks, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Manie Libbok. Conversions: Libbok (2). Penalties: Libbok (4).
Golden Lions – 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Eddie Fouche, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (c), 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Len Massyn, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Leo Kruger, 18 Chergin Fillies, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Vincent Tshituka, 21 James Venter, 22 Dillon Smit, 23 Duncan Matthews.
Blue Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl (c), 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Fred Eksteen, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Dayan van der Westhuizen.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Madot Mabokela, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Adre Smith, 20 Jean Droste, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Stedman Gans.
Photo: Lions Rugby