Cornal Hendricks scored a late try as the Vodacom Bulls registered a thrilling 40-35 win over the Lions in their preseason warm-up in Soweto on Sunday.
The Bulls trailed for large parts of this contest, but Hendricks went over for a fortuitous try in the 77th minute to turn the result in their favour.
Just based on the lineups, there were many subplots within the greater battle of the Gauteng derby and it made for great viewing.
New recruits Dan Kriel and Duncan Matthews absolutely bossed the centre battle. Kriel opened the scoring with a brilliant run off the back of a solid Lions scrum before Matthews gassed Bulls wing Rosko Specman twice to complete his brace of tries in the first half.
Another mini battle was the showdown between Elton Jantjies and the returning Morne Steyn. Both Bok flyhalves had a couple of excellent touches on the ball and with the boot, but neither can claim outright bragging rights (while they were both on the field together). Jantjies outlasted Steyn though, with the latter only playing 40 minutes.
Veteran prop Jannie du Plessis, who recently joined the Lions from Montpellier, also proved that he can still hold his own via a solid scrum performance.
The Lions’ discipline let them down horribly, though, and the Bulls took full advantage. Tries by Abongile Nonkontwana and Johnny Kotze ensured that the Bulls trailed by just 21-14 at the break. The only other downside of the first half was the injury to Warrick Gelant, who was taken off the field on the medical cart due to a concussion sustained in collision with Jantjies.
Bulls coach Pote Human made a raft of changes at the start of the second half and it had the desired effect as they ran in two consecutive tries to hit the front for the first time.
But the same went for the Lions, who found their second wind as soon as their reinforcements came on and provided more impetus on attack.
A perfect kick-pass by Jantjies set up Courtnall Skosan for a try before a couple of darting runs by Tyrone Green and scrumhalf Morne van der Berg culminated in a try for the latter.
But there would be more dramatic twists in the final 10 minutes before the full-time whistle sounded. The Bulls scored a fifth try to get within two and set up a grandstand finish.
Hendricks, who had a quiet game by his standards, then spurned what should have been a try with a knock on. He made up for his error when a pounced on poor pass by Van der Berg right on the tryline and darted over for the winning try.
There was a late opportunity for the Lions, but after toeing the ball ahead and collecting it just short of the line, Van der Berg was bundled into touch in the nick of time to ensure the Bulls stay ahead and came away with the win.
The Bulls will open their Vodacom Super Rugby season away to the Sharks on 31 January, while the Lions will kick off their campaign against the Jaguares on the road on 1 February.
Lions – Tries: Dan Kriel, Duncan Matthews (2), Courtnall Skosan, Morne van der Berg. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (5).
Bulls – Tries: Abongile Nonkontwana, Johnny Kotze, Manie Libbok, Divan Rossouw (2), Cornal Hendricks. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2), Chris Smit (3).
Lions – 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Duncan Matthews, 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 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Roelof Smit, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Morne van der Berg, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Tyrone Green, 24 Jo-Hanko de Villiers, 25 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 26 Jan-Louis La Grange, 27 Wandisile Simelane.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Muller Uys, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima.
Subs: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Ryno Pieterse, 20 Ruan Nortje/Jean Droste, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Divan Rossouw, 24 Dylan Sage, 25 Manie Libbok, 26 Jeandre Rudolph, 27 Abongile Nonkontwana, 28 Tim Agaba.
Photo: Gallo Images