The Lions overturned a 12-point deficit to down the Bulls 38-12 in Johannesburg and finish second in the overall standings. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result sees the Lions finish at the top of the South African conference and banking a home quarter-final. The Bulls, who have struggled throughout the season, have claimed the conference wooden spoon.
What’s more, the Waratahs’ loss to the Brumbies in Sydney and the Lions’ win over the Bulls in Johannesburg sees Swys de Bruin’s side ending the regular season at second in the standings. If the Lions win their quarter-final against the Jaguares next week, they will host a semi-final at Ellis Park thereafter.
They may be more than a little relieved with the way things have turned out. Indeed, there was a time in the first half of the match against the Bulls where they were 12-0 down and seemingly on the verge of surrendering their conference title.
The Bulls exposed some poor defence during the initial stages. Flyhalf Manie Libbok, in for the injured Handré Pollard, broke the line and raced nearly 80 metres to score. The Lions failed to stop centre Jesse Kriel thereafter, and after 13 minutes the Bulls found themselves in a strong position.
The Lions did not panic. Hooker Malcolm Marx and flank Kwagga Smith produced some influential plays at the breakdown. The hosts sought to utilise their lineout and maul to good effect, and earned some reward as the half progressed.
The momentum was with the Lions when Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman was yellow-carded for foul play in the 34th minute. The hosts scored through Courtnall Skosan after the hooter to go to the break with a 19-12 lead.
Then the Lions struck a telling blow in the 64th minute. After lock Lourens Erasmus was held up over the tryline, the hosts’ scrum fired to earn a penalty try.
Wing Ruan Combrinck scored his second try of the match shortly after that. That late flurry ensured that the Lions banked the bonus point and denied the Bulls a consolation for ending the contest within seven points of the victors.
The Bulls – who have the same number of wins and log points as the Stormers but an inferior points-difference – will finish the season at the bottom of the South African conference following the result at Ellis Park.
Lions – Tries: Ruan Combrinck (2), Malcolm Marx, Courtnall Skosan, penalty try, Aphiwe Dyantyi. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2), Andries Coetzee.
Bulls – Tries: Manie Libbok, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Libbok.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Johannes Jonker, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Warrick Gelant, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman (c), 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Mornay Smit, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Nick de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Boeta Hamman, 23 Swanepoel.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images