JOHANNESBURG – The Lions finally ran out of luck and good fortune.
After three come-from-behind victories they were unable to make if four in a row when they crashed to an inspired and determined Blue Bulls here in a round five Currie Cup game on Saturday night.
On three occasions previously in the competition the Lions fought back from being behind, but this time they could not over-turn another slow start, after falling 12-0 behind after 10 minutes.
And what made the Bulls’ victory that much more impressive is the fact they played for 60 minutes with 14 men while for 10 minutes in the second half they even went down to 13. After a rocky campaign up to this game, the Bulls turned on the power and flyhalf Manie Libbok, with 21 points and try-saving tackle, was the big star.
The Bulls started superbly by scoring their first try inside 25 seconds when wing Cornal Hendricks went in at the corner after the Lions had failed to secure the kick-off and they continued to completely dominate the opening exchanges. They played with width, speed and an intensity not seen this season and kept the Lions pegged inside their half of the field.
And 7-0 became 12-0 after 10 minutes when prop Dayan van der Westhuizen finished off after some good work by Ivan van Zyl and Libbok – the try coming from a turn-over when Lions No 10 Shaun Reynolds failed to hold an up-and-under.
The Bulls were then dealt a massive blow when rookie flank Fred Eksteen was red-carded in the 18th minute for a dangerous tackle. It was hardly surprising considering the aggression and in-your-face brand of rugby dished up by the Bulls and prop Wiehahn Herbst was fortunate to not also cop a sin-binning after what looked like a dangerous clean-out at a ruck in the opening minutes.
The visitors though were down to 14 men and the Lions made it count. They were first awarded a penalty try when the Bulls collapsed a scrum and then not long after that flyhalf Reynolds broke the defensive line to score a five-pointer.
But the Lions, who were guilty of some sloppy handling and ill-discipline in the first half, handed the advantage back to the Bulls when they conceded two penalties before half-time to trail the men from Pretoria by six at the interval.
And that became a 13-point lead for the Bulls soon after half-time when Libbok went over from close range and converted the try. The Lions though, as they’ve done throughout the competition, hit back with a converted try of their own; hooker Pieter Jansen finishing off a drive from the lineout.
Libbok though restored his team’s lead to nine points with a third penalty around the 60-minute mark, but the Bulls were then reduced to playing with 13 men for 10 minutes when lock Andries Ferreira was sin-binned for foul play. And the Lions made it count – again. Moments after wing Stean Pienaar was denied by an excellent tackle by Libbok, he went in for his team’s fourth try after some excellent work by Tyrone Green and Wandisile Simelane.
With 10 minutes to go the Bulls held a slender two-point lead and that became four when Libbok slotted a 76th minute penalty. It was enough to see the Bulls home and end the Lions’ three-match winning run.
Lions (12) 26 - Tries: Penalty try, Reynolds, Jansen, Pienaar; Conversions: Reynolds (2)
Bulls (18) 31 - Tries: Hendricks, van der Westhuizen, Libbok; Conversions: Libbok (2); Penalties: Libbok (4)