JAKE White would’ve been a relieved man last night after watching his Bulls side show real character to withstand a serious challenge from Griquas in their Super Rugby Unlocked opener at Loftus Versfeld.
The 30-23 Bulls victory was not a sure thing for long periods of time in Pretoria, and most certainly when the visitors took an 18-10 lead with less than half-an-hour to go.
Up to that point, it was an imaginative Griquas outfit that showed greater enterprise. They took the game to a Springbok-laden Bulls team with clever attacking ploys such as offloading in the tackle and looking for the inside pass, while their defensive line stood strong.
The forwards didn’t take a step backwards either, with lock Victor Sekekete, prop Mox Mxoli and No 8 Niell Jordaan getting stuck in.
The Bulls were unable to find the same rhythm on attack that they achieved in the warm-up game against the Sharks. This time around, they appeared to be forcing things, with wrong options at the wrong times.
A tough, hard-fought 80 minutes. But the Vodacom Bulls managed to come away with the win. First Vodacom #SuperRugbyUnlocked game, first W. On to the next one 💪#BullsFamily #BULvGRI pic.twitter.com/tQi3zkdHZb
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) October 10, 2020
Perhaps that kind of apprehension stemmed from the fact their much-vaunted forward pack couldn’t gain the physical dominance that White would’ve expected.
Griquas gave a portent of things to come when they thwarted a Bulls maul close to their line, and it was captain George Whitehead who put their team into the lead with an early penalty.
And just when the likes of Marco van Staden and Arno Botha got going, Morné Steyn did the unthinkable and missed a shot at goal.
Wing Travis Ismaiel nearly made the breakthrough with a dynamic run, but he wasn’t able to find Gio Aplon – who made a couple of classy breaks himself – on his inside.
Griquas took full advantage, with left wing James Verity-Amm finishing well in the corner after some quick hands down the blindside.
— Griquas Rugby (@GriquasRugby) October 10, 2020
Visiting scrumhalf Zak Burger – who was the Man of the Match – also kept the Bulls defence busy around the fringes, and put in a few smart kicks into space.
Steyn got the Bulls on to the board just before halftime, and the hosts were able to level matters before the hooter sounded when lock Jason Jenkins, of all people, roared upfield and fed second-row partner Ruan Nortje to make it 10-10 at the break.
Bulls No 8 Tim Agaba was yellow-carded early in the second half for a cynical infringement, and Griquas again pounced when Anthony Volmink grabbed a loose pass from David Kriel to hand his team a five-point lead.
Whitehead soon made it 18-10, and it looked like Griquas were going to repeat last year’s Currie Cup triumph at Loftus.
But the skipper was yellow-carded for not rolling away a few minutes later, and the Bulls destroyed the opposition scrum to claim a penalty try.
Cornal Hendricks almost secured the victory when he was set to dot down, but Griquas wing Daniel Kasende knocked the ball out of his grasp.
Nevertheless, Steyn stepped up to land a lengthy penalty to put the home team 20-18 up, and then captain Botha sped away from an inside pass by Ivan van Zyl to all but secure the win.
Griquas briefly threatened when Verity-Amm kept his cool to grubber ahead and score, but Steyn finished things off with another three-pointer.
Bulls 30 – Tries: Ruan Nortje, Penalty Try, Arno Botha. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (3).
Griquas 23 – Tries: James Verity-Amm (2), Anthony Volmink. Conversions: George Whitehead (1). Penalties: Whitehead (2).
* Meanwhile, in Bloemfontein earlier on Saturday, the Pumas can be relieved that they did not concede a century as the Cheetahs ran them ragged in a 53-31 Super Rugby Unlocked extravaganza.
The 41-3 halftime score, with six tries already chalked up by the home side, told the true story of what happened at the Free State Stadium as the Cheetahs made a point to SA Rugby officials following their axing from the imminent PRO Rugby expansion.
Wing Malcolm Jaer got a hat trick as the Cheetahs produced eight touchdowns in the end.
* Please find the full Cheetahs-Pumas match report on the IOL Sport website: www.iol.co.za/sport