Bulls keep their cool at hot Loftus to knock Lions out of Currie Cup
CAPE TOWN – When the heat is on, you need your leaders to step up and make the big plays. And while Duane Vermeulen didn’t score the decisive try himself, he decided that the Bulls should kick a penalty into touch instead of opting for a possible three points.
It was a critical moment in Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld. The score was locked at 14-14 after 55 minutes, and Morné Steyn had just missed a penalty at goal that he should’ve slotted over.
The safe choice would’ve been to hand Steyn another shot, but instead, the Bulls skipper wanted a lineout maul. Coach Jake White would have been a relieved man when replacement hooker Johan Grobbelaar wheeled away and dotted the ball down.
Disaster followed soon after for Ivan van Rooyen’s team, as both locks Marvin Orie and Willem Alberts were yellow-carded within three minutes of each other for repeated infringements, and that was the end of the Lions’ challenge as the Bulls clinched a 26-21 victory.
The Bulls then easily dominated a six-man Lions pack in a scrum for outstanding young wing Stravino Jacobs to grab his second try of the day, and all but secure a final at Loftus Versfeld next Saturday.
But on a hot Pretoria day – where the temperature was well over 30 degrees Celcius – it wasn’t always easy for Vermeulen’s men. They did enjoy the early advantage, with Lizo Gqoboka dominating veteran tighthead Jannie du Plessis in the scrums – with Du Plessis eventually replaced by Carlu Sadie.
A number of stoppages in play also suited the hosts, who were patient on attack and defence, while the Lions tried to speed things up and paid the price as a result. The Johannesburg outfit were let down by their handling in a number of promising attacks, while the Bulls hunted them down at the breakdowns and in contact.
When White’s team did get some possession, they used it well, and were rewarded in the 10th minute with a lovely piece of play by Steyn. The 36-year-old flyhalf rounded off a fluid move with a perfect grubber into the path of Jacobs, who did well to snatch the ball away from Stean Pienaar to open the scoring.
Penalties either side of halftime by Steyn stretched the lead to 14-0, but then the Lions finally found their touch. This time they actually held on to the ball through a number of phases, and Alberts charged through a gap to narrow the deficit to seven points.
Two minutes later, the Bulls were unable to field a high ball, and Lions replacement loose forward Francke Horn offloaded to a flying Wandisile Simelane, who had enough pace to beat the cover defence to level the score at 14-14.
The Bulls, though, showed greater composure in the final 25 minutes, with Grobbelaar regaining the lead with that maul try, while the resolute Bulls defence stood firm in the face of several Lions attacking forays – until Burger Odendaal got a consolation five-pointer after the hooter.
In the end, the visitors’ ill-discipline cost them dearly, and coach Van Rooyen will be frustrated by the poor execution with ball-in-hand, as well as gifting the Bulls a couple of easy exits when they were under pressure in their own 22.
For White, the Bulls’ remarkable unbeaten run at Loftus Versfeld this season continues. They’ve already got the Super Rugby Unlocked title in the bag. Now for the Currie Cup trophy…
Bulls 26 – Tries: Stravino Jacobs (2), Johan Grobbelaar. Conversion: Morné Steyn (1). Penalties: Steyn (3).
Lions 21 – Tries: Willem Alberts, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3).