The Bulls opened their Rainbow Cup campaign with a 22-9 win over the Lions at Loftus on Saturday night despite having three tries disallowed.
Gameflow: Considering the talent these sides boast and their earlier promise of expansive rugby, the quality – or lack thereof– in this contest was somewhat disappointing. Of course, the game was played at a frantic pace and with brute physicality, but there was no structure and no precision in what either the Bulls or Lions were doing.
It took the Bulls just two minutes to strike an early blow when Chris Smith danced his way through the heart of the Lions defence with relative ease to cross for a self-converted try. The Lions, though, struck back with two penalties off the boot of debutant Fred Zeilinga before the end of the first quarter to make it a one-point game.
The hosts would extend their lead with a three-pointer but the margin could’ve been greater had the Bulls taken their opportunities. First, they had a try chalked off after a review confirmed that scrumhalf Embrose Papier had knocked the ball on at the base of a ruck in the lead-up to the try being scored. Then, on the stroke of half time, centre Cornal Hendricks was unable to ground the ball for a try after a perfectly weighted chip into the in-goal area sat up for him.
The second half turned out no better than the first. In fact, after an early penalty to the visitors there was a lack of point-scoring action. The Bulls had a further two tries wiped off the scoresheet after it was ruled that an obstruction occurred in the lead-up to one and a successful captain’s referral by the Lions led to the cancellation of the other. But replacement scrumhalf Zak Burger would score a try to push the Bulls’ lead beyond the seven-point margin.
The error rate increased in the last 10 minutes, but the Bulls would have the final say when Louw barged over for a deserved touchdown at the death. Yet, the scoreline is not a true reflection of the game. The Bulls may have won handsomely in the end but, alongside the Lions, they played like this was a pre-season warm-up instead of an in-competition encounter.
Hammer blow: Twelve minutes into the match, the Lions lost Tiaan Swanepoel – arguably the most valuable player in their squad – to a serious-looking ankle injury after a collision with opposition flank Elrich Louw. With the enforced removal of Swanepoel and his booming kicking boot, the Bulls unintentionally took out the biggest weapon in the Lions’ already limited arsenal.
Bok watch: The solid performance of Hendricks in midfield did not harm his chances as an outside horse in the race for Springbok selection. Outgoing Bulls openside flank Marco van Staden, who is set to join the Leicester Tigers, is another Bok bolter who had an excellent opening game in the Rainbow Cup.