Fred Zeilinga scored a late self-converted try to hand the Lions a shock 34-33 win over the previously unbeaten Bulls at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Gameflow: It was a case of the ‘undefeated’ up against the ‘winless’ in this Jugskei derby. And while the Lions’ bright start coupled with the uncharacteristic sloppiness by the Bulls threatened to upset the apple cart, normal service resumed as the visitors stepped up their game. However, Zeilinga’s heroics guided the Lions to their maiden win of the campaign and subjected the Bulls to their first defeat.
Having dominated territory and possession, and surprisingly dictating at the set pieces, the Lions were rewarded with an early converted try by lock Ruben Schoeman next to the posts. It took the Bulls a while to get into their work, but as soon as they did the impressive Elrigh Louw barged over from close quarters after a patient buildup. But the scores weren’t level for long before Jordan Hendrikse drilled a penalty between the uprights to put the hosts back in front.
And so the lead exchanged hands as a second Lions try – a brilliant individual effort by Rabz Maxwane – sandwiched between two further Bulls touchdowns had the men in blue taking a 19-17 lead with half time approaching. However, the Lions’ dominant scrum won a penalty and Hendrikse stepped up to turn a long-range kick attempt into three points, handing his side a slender 20-19 advantage heading into the break.
After absorbing pressure for the majority of the first half, a shift in momentum at the start of the second half had the Bulls chalk up 14 unanswered points via two converted tries for a handy 13-point lead. But the Lions were not deterred by the sudden shift. Bringing on the bench reinforcements, they continued to chip away at the Bulls defence, their tenaciousness rewarded by a third try which closed the gap to six points going into the final quarter.
The hosts had the lion’s share of possession and, with the introduction of Fred Zeilinga, controlled the territorial battle in the last 10 minutes. In fact, it would be Zeilinga who crossed for an all-important self-converted try that put the Lions in the driving seat. From there on it was all about seeing out the game and the Lions did it perfectly as the Bulls didn’t even come close to their own 22, let alone the tryline.
Bok watch: Duane Vermeulen was the pick of the Springboks involved in this clash. His physicality was on a different level and he made a few telling tackles against an inspired Lions attack. It was one of his power carries that set up teammate Madosh Tambe’s try. On the other hand, Vermeulen will want to forget that Maxwane had stepped around him before his touchdown. Overall, the Bok No 8 should be satisfied with another exemplary performance.
For all their influence off the bench last week, Bok props Trevor Nyakane and Lizo Gqoboka struggled in the scrum against Lions duo Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie.
The Leicester Tigers-bound Marco van Staden had a quiet day out for the Bulls as the Lions easily neutralised the threat he poses on the ground.
Best of the rest: Tambwe was arguably the Bulls’ best back on the field, despite youngster Dawid Kriel outscoring him two tries to one. Tambwe was full of running and made a couple of linebreaks against the Lions’ fractured defence.
As mentioned, Louw finished off a well-worked team effort before the break. His work rate was again second to none and this performance certainly did not harm his status as a Bok bolter ahead of the upcoming international season.
Lions duo Maxwane and Hendrikse were the other standouts performers, with the former’s stunning solo try sending a timely reminder of what he offers as an attacking weapon, while the latter’s nerveless kicking and brave defensive work didn’t go unnoticed.
The introduction of Zeilinga turned the game on its head. His tactical kicking and goalkicking kept the Lions in the game before he went over to score the game winner.