The Vodacom Bulls secured their place at the top of the Currie Cup standings after battling to a 22-15 victory over the Lions in Pretoria on Wednesday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The result will have the Bulls finish first in the Currie Cup, regardless of the outcome of their match against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Sunday. They will face the Lions in a repeat of Wednesday’s match in the semi-finals next Saturday.
Western Province will host the other Currie Cup semi-final next weekend, but that will depend on how the Sharks deal with their Covid-19 situation after their costal derby scheduled for Saturday was called off following multiple positive tests.
While it wasn’t the prettiest of performances, Bulls coach Jake White will undoubtedly be pleased with his side’s fighting spirit after they battled from an early nine-point deficit to get the all-important win.
Even more impressive was that the Bulls were without their regular backline players in Stedman Gans, Cornal Hendricks, Travis Ismaiel and Kurt-Lee Arendse.
The Lions dominated the opening exchanges, disrupting the Bulls’ set piece and forcing their scrum backwards, deservedly opening up a 9-0 lead through the boot of fullback Tiaan Swanepoel, who scored all of his side’s points.
The Bulls responded as flyhalf Chris Smith slotted a couple of penalties of his own, before he added another couple of penalties to push the home side into a 12-9 lead at the break.
The hosts landed a significant blow at the start of the second half when captain Vermeulen picked the ball up from the back of a scrum and shifted it to Papier, who burst through to score the game’s first try.
The Lions continued to fight their way back into the match as White rung a few early changes with an eye on the upcoming playoffs and Sunday’s match against the Pumas. A long period of pressure earned them a few penalties, one of which was converted by Swanepoel to make it 19-12.
Swanepoel’s fifth penalty, slotted from inside his own half, brought the Lions to within four points of the Bulls, but Morne Steyn came off the bench and slotted a penalty in the final three minutes to give the Bulls enough of a buffer to see the game out.
Bulls –Tries: Embrose Papier. Conversions: Chris Smith. Penalties: Smith (3), Morne Steyn.
Lions – Penalties: Tiaan Swanepoel (5).
Bulls – 15 David Kriel, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Marnus Potgieter, 12 Jay-Cee Nel, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Jan Uys, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Erasmus, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Tim Agaba, 22 Ivan van Zyl, 23 Morne Steyn.
Lions – 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (c), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Carlü Sadie, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Wandisile Simelane, 23 Francke Horn.
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images