The Lions clinched a 56-20 bonus-point win over the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Lions will go into the June international break with a six-point lead over the Stormers at the top of the South African group. It’s thoroughly deserved. Again, they proved on Saturday that they are far and away the best side in South Africa.
More than that, over the past couple of weeks, they have demonstrated that they are a side that should be regarded as very real title contenders. Heading into Saturday’s clash, the Bulls had remained unbeaten at home, and yet they were bullied in almost every department, losing the battle at the breakdown and failing to live with the free-flowing Lions.
While there had been plenty of talk in the buildup to this match about how the Lions would fare in the absence of injured first-choice flyhalf Elton Jantjies, Marnitz Boshoff slotted in seamlessly, while Faf de Klerk stepped up to produce a vibrant and inspiring performance at scrumhalf.
The talented halfback represents everything that is good about the Lions. He is fearless and boasts game-changing X factor. De Klerk scored a try and created two others in a performance that saw him complete 71m, make 59 passes and execute three clean breaks.
Key to the Lions’ attack this season has been the work of De Klerk, and the diminutive No 9 again provided the early spark with a beautiful break that created the first try for Rohan Janse van Rensburg just before the quarter-hour mark.
It took the Lions into a handy 13-0 lead after two earlier penalties from Boshoff, although the Bulls hit right back from the kick-off, with Jesse Kriel pouncing on the uncollected ball before darting over to score. Yet, it would be one of the few moments for the hosts to celebrate in the opening half.
This season, the Bulls have boasted the best tackle success rate in the competition (88.8%), but it was evident early on that the Lions’ high-paced attack was threatening to compromise their defence. And so it proved as De Klerk broke from the back of a scrum on the halfway line, spun the pass to Van Rensburg, who then slipped the ball to Lionel Mapoe. He ran a lovely line to collect, bust a tackle and then went over to score.
In another big moment just before the break, the Lions struck again as a multi-phase buildup eventually enabled prop Julian Redelinghuys to score the simplest of tries and help take his side into a commanding 25-8 lead at half-time.
That ascendancy on the scoreboard was accurately reflected by the statistics at half-time, with SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats showing that the Lions had made 321m to 101, 69 carries to 29, while also executing five clean breaks to none. Glaringly, the Bulls also slipped 12 tackles in an opening stanza that saw them have just 26% of possession.
To make matters worse for the Bulls, Kriel suffered a blow to the ribs and had to be replaced at half-time. With the foundation laid, the Lions just kept the scoreboard ticking over, with Boshoff slotting his third penalty of the night in the 47th minute.
And as if on trial for Bok coach Allister Coetzee, De Klerk took a brilliant quick tap on the Lions’ 10m line, outstripped the defence and then sent a perfectly timed inside pass to flying Jaco Kriel who went over to score the visitors' fourth try of the night.
Adriaan Strauss briefly threatened to spark a Bulls fightback when he scored from the back of a driving maul, but just after the hour mark, Lions winger Courtnall Skosan dotted down to effectively seal the result and bonus point.
The Bulls’ woes continued when replacement Tian Schoeman was sent to the sin bin after repeated infringements, and while he was off, De Klerk and Janse van Rensburg went over to score as the Lions piled on the points.
Deon Stegmann would score one final consolation try for the Bulls, but it was yet another night for the Lions to celebrate.
Bulls – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Adriaan Strauss, Deon Stegmann. Conversion: Tian Schoeman. Penalty: Francois Brummer.
Lions – Tries: Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2), Lionel Mapoe, Julian Redelinghuys, Jaco Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Faf de Klerk. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (6). Penalties: Boshoff (3).
Bulls – 15 SP Marais, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Deon Stegmann, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel.
Lions – 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Ashlon Davids.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images