Lionel Cronjé scored 21 points as the Kings clinched a courageous 31-30 win over the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday evening. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Bulls looked to have snatched this result when Jaco Visagie scored a 77th-minute try, but after regular time, Cronjé stepped up to slot an angled penalty and hand the Kings a thrilling win.
It's a sixth win in a season that has just got better and better for the gutsy Kings, who have displayed such compelling fighting spirit throughout their 2017 campaign.
Although this game was effectively a dead rubber – with neither side in playoff contention – it was always likely to be a fiercely fought affair.
For the Kings, it was another opportunity for them to make a statement following their official ‘axing’ from Super Rugby, while the Bulls are looking to finish off a disappointing season with purpose and pride.
In the opening quarter, the Kings certainly provided a fitting display of just how far they have come this season as they produced plenty of innovative and accurate play, with star winger Makazole Mapimpi finishing off a beautifully worked try.
Although the hosts did look to have hit back with one of their own when Travis Ismaiel went over in the 22nd minute, the ‘try’ was ruled out due to a high tackle in the lead-up from Bulls lock Jason Jenkins, which earned him a yellow card.
In his absence, the Kings scored almost immediately through Cronjé, who dotted down under the posts, but the visitors then had a man sent to the sin bin when Wandile Mjekevu was found guilty of a reckless tackle.
Despite this levelling of the playing field in terms of numbers, the Kings continued to play with the sort of pace, precision and ball handling ability that left the Bulls’ defence in disarray, while enabling fullback Malcolm Jaer to dart away to score his team’s third try.
In a remarkable finish to the half, the Kings looked sure to score again when Mapimpi broke away with the tryline beckoning, but RG Snyman completed a sensational cover tackle to deny the winger. Once the ball was won back, the Bulls launched one last attack, and in the end it was Jenkins who went over to score.
It enabled the Bulls to cut the deficit to 12 points at half-time, while the home team seemed to come out after the break with renewed belief as winger Duncan Matthews displayed beautiful footwork to score soon after the restart, while another possible try was ruled out by the TMO.
After a dominant third quarter from the Bulls, they received further reward when Schoeman slotted a penalty to cut the deficit to only two points just before the hour mark.
The contest then appeared to swing decisively in favour of the Bulls as Schoeman slotted his third penalty of the night in the 66th minute, while Kings lock Giant Mtyanda was sent to the sin bin for a cynical offence.
Yet in his absence, Cronjé slotted a drop goal and a penalty to push the Kings into a 28-23 lead, but Visagie barreled over to score just before Mtyanda returned to the field.
However, the drama wasn't over yet as Cronjé struck the match-winning penalty to send his side into delirious celebrations.
Bulls – Tries: Jason Jenkins, Duncan Matthews, Jaco Visagie. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (3). Penalties: Schoeman (3).
Kings – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Lionel Cronjé, Malcolm Jaer. Conversions: Lionel Cronjé (2). Penalties: Cronjé (3). Drop goal: Cronjé.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Duncan Matthews, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Nic de Jager, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 John-Roy Jenkinson, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Shaun Adendorff, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Tinus de Beer, 23 Burger Odendaal.
Kings – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Mzamo Majola.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Mzwanele Zito, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Masixole Banda, 23 Yaw Penxe.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images