The Bulls scored 17 unanswered second-half points to claim a 17-14 victory over South Africa A with a week to go until the first Test of the Lions series.
Gameflow: South Africa A got off to a flying start as they camped in the Bulls’ 22 for the opening 10 minutes and opened the scoring in the 11th, when Cobus Reinach sniped around a breakdown and broke a tackle before popping a pass to put Aphelele Fassi in for a try.
In truth, the Bulls were largely dominant in the first half and had the better of possession and territory. They spent a long period of their own in the SA A 22, where they won a trio of penalties and saw their opposition reduced to 14 men when Wandisile Simelane was yellow-carded for repeated infringements.
The first half was largely lacklustre, with both teams making plenty of handling and passing errors. Neither side had it all their own way at the set piece either, but the Bulls had the better of the scrums, with Jacques van Rooyen giving Coenie Oosthuizen a torrid time.
Despite struggling for any continuity, SA A extended their lead just before the break, when Rosko Specman set up Simelane for a simple dive over the tryline.
South Africa A grew into the match in the second half, despite Nienaber ringing the changes. However, a quick one-two punch had the Bulls levelling the score with two tries in a couple of minutes. First, Johan Goosen broke the line and put Keagan Johannes under the poles, before Johan Grobbelaar finished off a wonderful flowing move to tie matters up with 12 minutes on the clock.
Chris Smith, who replaced Goosen in the final 10 minutes, then slotted a long-range penalty to put the Bulls ahead.
SA A had a late chance to claim a win, with a quick-tap penalty five metres from the Bulls tryline, but the ball was lost forward and Bulls captain Nizaam Carr was able to boot it into touch to claim the victory.
Talking points: Worryingly for Springbok coaches Jacques Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s discipline again let them down as it did in the midweek game against the British & Irish Lions. Even though the Bulls failed to capitalise, this is something that will have to be a focus point going into the first Test next Saturday.
The game was played very much like a training match, with risky offloads being thrown and a disjointed performance, particularly from South Africa A.
There was also very little scrum completion throughout. This was the area where most of the penalties came from and the lack of a stable platform contributed to the stop-start nature of the game.
Noticeably, the Springboks also experienced their fair share of struggles at lineout. This makes it all the more important that the first-choice locks and hookers are available for the Test matches.
Players who shone: In a difficult game to manage, Cobus Reinach produced some neat little kicks in behind the Bulls defence to keep the SA A pack moving forward. Reinach was also on hand to support the attack when needed and picked up a try assist. Kwagga Smith made another strong case for his inclusion in the Test team, even though he did throw the odd wayward offload when keeping the ball would have been better.
Damian de Allende put in another strong showing and seems to be picking up some good momentum ahead of the Tests, while Rosko Specman was his energetic self and chased everything down his channel. Aphelele Fasi also looked dangerous whenever he got hands on ball in space.
For the Bulls, Johan Goosen produced a class performance in his first start for the team, controlling the game excellently at 10 and setting up their only try of the match. Harold Vorster and Cornal Hendricks had a good duel in midfield with De Allende and Simelane, while Jacques van Rooyen and Simphiwe Matanzima gave the SA A props a good working over at the scrum.
South Africa A – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Yaw Penxe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Elton Jantjies (c), 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 4 Jean-Luc du Preez, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Japser Wiese, 20 Sanele Nohamba, 21 Sbu Nkosi, 22 Jesse Kriel, 23 Damian Willemse, 24 Lizo Gqoboka.
Bulls – 15 FC du Plessis, 14 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Zak Burger, 8 WJ Steenkamp, 7 Muller Uys, 6 Nizaam Carr (c), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Schalk Erasmus, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima.
Subs: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Chris Smith, 23 David Kriel, 24 Jan-Hendrik Wessels.