JOHANNESBURG – The Lions grumbled and rumbled, but it was the Bulls who powered their way to victory in a confrontational, hard-fought battle in their SuperRugby Unlocked encounter at Ellis Park on Saturday night
The first half was an arm-wrestle of note. Before the game, much had been discussed and gesticulated regarding who would have the upper-hand in the set-pieces and tight exchanges and it was as early as the third minute that the Lions forwards stamped their authority, overpowering a normally belligerent Bulls side at scrum-time.
Led by Carlu Sadie, the Lions slowly but surely built momentum up-front during the first half, placing their opponents under early pressure and nullifying one of the Bulls’ most potent weapons.
It resulted in the first points of the match as captain Elton Jantjies striked through a penalty to start the score board ticking over for his team. From that moment onwards, both packs tussled for control, the battle for supremacy briefly swinging in the favour of the Bulls, who drove towards the line to crash over the whitewash for the first seven-pointer.
The Lions, however, would not submit, and through their power game kept the ball amongst their forwards, now enjoying the ascendency. It was their first eight who laid the foundation for both the Lions’ tries in the first stanza, with Burger Odendaal diving over the far corner for their opening try, and then nuggety scrumhalf Morne van der Berg snipping off of a collapsed maul to score their second.
Disaster struck early in the second half for the Bulls as Springbok Trevor Nyakane’s foul luck continued, the prop gingerly walking off the field with a suspected neck injury.
Nevertheless, the forwards battle continued as the Bulls, now rallying around the unstoppable force that is Duane Vermeulen, bludgeoned their way – sans Nkyane – within inches of the tryline only for the TMO to decree that Marco van Staden had knocked on the ball. The Bulls had the advantage though and despite the resulting line-out from them being messy – which defined that particular set-piece for both sides throughout the match – and overthrown, an uncharacteristic mistake from captain Elton Jantjies saw a diving Stedman Gans collect the ball and stretch over the tryline.
Despite the Lions’ early ascendency at scrum-time, the Bulls were ruling at the breakdown, and winning crucial penalties, swinging the momentum, and the skirmishes up-front – firmly into the hands of the Pretoria team. The irrepressible boot of Steyn converted that pressure into points, the Bulls opening up an eight point lead as the final quarter ticked over. And while the Lions forwards were stumbling, the backs stood up to the plate with Courtnal Skosan taking on the Bulls’ defence, releasing Wandisile Simelane to bewilder the opposition and dance to a brilliant try, converted expertly by Jantjies.
There was now one point in it with 10 minutes to play but Kurt-Lee Arendse, and through the resulting conversion of Steyn, would restore the Bulls lead moments later by dotting a well-worked try. It would be the coup de grace for the Bulls, who having absorbed the early pressure from the Lions, finally flexed their muscle in earnest by winning a draining forward dominated encounter.
Lions: (15) 25 – Try: Odendaal, Van der Berg, Simelane; Conversion: Jantjies (2); Penalty: Jantjies (2)
Blue Bulls: (10) 30 – Try: J van Zyl, Gans, Arendse; Conversion: Steyn (3); Penalty: Steyn (3)