Bulls battle past Cheetahs

Jesse Kriel scored a 74th-minute try to hand the Bulls a hard-fought 20-14 win over the Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

The Bulls have back-to-back wins at home. Again, it was far from a complete performance, but they won't be fazed in the slightest after a horror start to their season.

As it was, the home side produced a hapless performance in the opening half, and trailed by eight points, but they came out of the dressing room with renewed intent, and somehow found a way to win.

Ultimately, it was from a turnover that possession was won, with the ball sent through the hands before Kriel displayed his impressive finishing ability to dart inside for the match-winning try.

On a beautiful evening in Pretoria, a small crowd had turned up at Loftus, and once again there was very little for the home fans to shout about in an error-riddled opening half which saw the Cheetahs establish an 11-3 lead.

In fact, there was a sense of irony that as this clash kicked off, a number of South Africans were in action in a high-quality European Champions Cup semi-final between Saracens and Munster, which was played out in front of a capacity crowd at the Aviva Stadium.

Although the Bulls’ rush defence reaped good rewards at a quiet Loftus in the first half, the hosts were again haunted by a failure to create meaningful opportunities on attack, while their lineout ball was uncharacteristically scrappy.

The Cheetahs were hardly more clinical in an opening stanza where a number of passes didn’t go to hand, or possession was lost forward, but they were still fully deserving of a handy eight-point lead at the break.

Flanker Paul Schoeman scored early on from the back of a driving maul, while flyhalf Niel Marais knocked over two penalties, with the only riposte from the Bulls coming via the boot of Tian Schoeman.

The message from the Bulls coaching staff at half-time would have been for the team to be far more direct in the second period, and it was from some hard and straight running that replacement Jacques Potgieter barged over in the 54th minute to help reduce the deficit to only one point.

Marais and Schoeman then traded penalties as the Cheetahs held on to a 14-13 lead heading into the final 10 minutes, but then came the magic moment from Kriel, and the Bulls were able to celebrate another much-needed win.

Bulls – Tries: Jacques Potgieter, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (2). Penalties: Schoeman (2).
Cheetahs – Try: Paul Schoeman. Penalties: Niel Marais (3).

Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jacques Potgieter, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Franco Naude.

Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Uzair Cassiem, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga.

Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images

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Craig Lewis