The Vodacom Bulls produced an impressive second-half performance to come from behind to beat the Lions 30-25 in Johannesburg on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The victory moved the Bulls go six points clear at the top of the Super Rugby Unlocked table, as Jake White’s side claimed their third win in a row.
However, it was less than straightforward as the Lions were able to take a deserved 15-10 lead into half time after the home side had the better of the set piece and territory in the first half.
The Bulls had come into the match in fantastic form, having claimed bonus-point victories over the Sharks and Stormers in their last two games in Pretoria.
What was notable in that first half was that Jake White’s Bulls were denied the momentum that they had enjoyed in their previous two games, as the Lions dominated the scrums and gave their rivals very little in terms of territory.
Still, the Bulls deserve credit for the way they were able to respond in the second half, especially after losing three forwards to injuries.
Despite dominating parts of the game, the Lions will feel that they conceded far too many cheap penalties and especially struggled to cope with the Bulls’ driving maul, where they really lacked accuracy in their counter-shove.
The Lions pack made an early warning statement by winning a penalty off the first scrum, with Sadie and Sithole getting the better of their opposite numbers. The Bulls did manage to open up a 10-3 lead after Morne Steyn and Elton Jantjies traded penalties, when Joe van Zyl scored from the back of a driving maul.
However, from there the momentum shifted in the Lions’ favour as they started to see more of the ball and were able to get themselves into scoreable positions. A good period of pressure freed Burger Odendaal up on the wing and the inside centre slid over the tryline to level the scores against his former employers.
The hosts then took the lead when Morne van den Berg sniped over the tryline after a driving maul was collapsed, giving them a deserved 15-10 lead at the break.
The Bulls received a double blow in the second half as they had to replace both Jacques van Rooyen and Trevor Nyakane, but Steenekamp and Van der Merwe put in a strong effort at the scrums to win a penalty, which Steyn converted. In easily their best period of pressure Stedman Gans intercepted a pass from Jantjies to score to put the Bulls in the lead.
It looked as though the momentum was shifting towards the Bulls at that stage, as Steyn converted his third penalty while the visitors started to take control of the set-piece battle. However, in a moment of brilliance Courtnall Skosan started a counter-attack which ended with Wandisile Simelane breaking three tackles on his way to the tryline.
Ultimately, the game was sealed when the Bulls were able to build pressure from another strong driving maul, with simple good hands freeing up Kurt-Lee Arendse to score out wide. Jantjies did convert a penalty after the full-time hooter to ensure that the Lions were able to take a losing bonus point from the match.
Lions – Tries: Burger Odendaal, Morne van den Berg, Wandisile Simelane. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalty: Jantjies (2)
Bulls – Tries: Joe van Zyl, Stedman Gans, Kurt-Lee Arendse. Conversions: Morne Steyn (3). Penalties: Steyn (3).
Lions – 15 Gianni Lombard; 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Courtnall Skosan; 10 Elton Jantjies (c), 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 MJ Pelser, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Tiaan Swanepoel.
Bulls – 15 David Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Joe van Zyl, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images