Powerhouse Akker van der Merwe inspires Bulls to bonus-point win over Lions

Canan Moodie, who scored the opening try for the Bulls, goes up to compete for a high ball against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Canan Moodie, who scored the opening try for the Bulls, goes up to compete for a high ball against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Feb 17, 2024


Cape Town – Akker van der Merwe sparked the Bulls into life in the second half to set up a 25-10 United Rugby Championship bonus-point victory over the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon.

Jake White’s team went to the top of the URC log on 35 points, one ahead of Leinster, who are in action later on Saturday against third-placed Benetton (32).

White would have been a relieved man at the end of a hot Johannesburg afternoon following a lacklustre first half from the Pretoria side.

Despite getting enough possession inside the Lions’ half, the Bulls found ways to halt their own momentum on attack with a series of handling errors, as well as lost lineouts and driving mauls that were stopped by the home side’s forwards.

The Lions themselves were also guilty of wasting hard-won ball with a number of box-kicks from scrumhalf Morné van den Berg, while even the normally attack-minded flyhalf Sanele Nohamba used the boot too often.

The only memorable moment from the opening 40 minutes was the Bulls’ opening try, by wing Canan Moodie, which began with yet another powerful shove by prop Gerhard Steenekamp in a scrum, where he got the better of in-form Lions tighthead Asenathi Ntlabakanye all day long.

Bulls No 8 Cameron Hanekom burst away from the back of the scrum and produced a superb offload to livewire scrumhalf Embrose Papier, who showcased his trademark pace to fly downfield before finding Moodie.

The Springbok wing was ankle-tapped in a remarkable chase by Lions No 8 Francke Horn, but was able to get up and dot down.

That was as good as it got for both sides, though, as the Bulls led 5-3 at halftime.

They weren’t helped by flank Elrigh Louw going off for an undisclosed reason – although replacement Mpilo Gumede again impressed with a couple of strong carries at close quarters.

But following two more mistakes from the Bulls, White made the big call to bring on Van der Merwe for Johan Grobbelaar at hooker and Johan Goosen for a misfiring Jaco van der Walt at flyhalf, and suddenly the visitors found some rhythm.

The Lions, though, were unlucky not to take the lead in the 49th minute when wing Richard Kriel dived over in the right-hand corner – with TMO Marius van der Westhuizen advising referee AJ Jacobs of a forward pass from Nohamba to Kriel.

That was the cue for the Bulls to take charge, and it was that man Van der Merwe who grabbed the second try off the back of a driving maul in the 52nd minute.

With Papier providing a quick-fire service from the base, the Bulls came out of their shells a bit and took on the Lions defence with ball-in-hand, despite Moodie and Bok teammate Kurt-Lee Arendse still not seeing much possession.

Goosen slotted a penalty to stretch the lead to 13-3, and with 12 minutes to go, Van der Merwe made another bullocking run, which eventually saw Marcell Coetzee dart over near the posts.

There was a consolation try for Lions fullback Quan Horn, who took advantage of Bulls No 15 Devon Williams just not being able to dot the ball down behind his goal-line.

But there was still time for the Bulls bonus-point try, and it came courtesy of a thrilling bit of skill from inside centre Kriel, who chipped ahead and beat the cover defence to score.


Lions 10 – Try: Quan Horn. Conversion: Jordan Hendrikse (1). Penalty: Sanele Nohamba (1).

Bulls 25 – Tries: Canan Moodie, Akker van der Merwe, Marcell Coetzee, David Kriel. Conversion: Johan Goosen (1). Penalty: Goosen (1).