PRETORIA – The Blue Bulls took a giant leap in placing one foot into the Currie Cup semi-finals with a near flawless display of running rugby to secure a 52-32 win over the Pumas at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
It was a well-deserved victory for John Mitchell’s men, who ran riot in their last home game of a season that almost went belly up after a mid-season slump that resulted in the firing of then-coach Nollis Marais.
And it could be that dip in performance that saw the Bulls go on a four-match losing streak that could prove costly to their playoff aspirations.
Even with the a full house of points against a side that had beaten them 51-15 in the first round in Nelspruit, the Bulls still run the risk of not making to next week’s semi-finals, with their playoff ambitions being in the hands of the Golden Lions and Free State Cheetahs, who play on Saturday.
For Mitchell’s men to progress through to the semi-finals, the Cheetahs will need to beat the Lions at Ellis Park.
However, if the Lions win, they must prevent the Cheetahs from getting more than one bonus point, which would see the defending champions finish locked on 32 points with the Bulls.
That would result in the men from the capital going through because of a better points difference.
But regardless of whether the Bulls season comes to an end on Saturday or not, they have sent a reminder to the rest of the country that the sleeping giant that had become the laughing stock of Super Rugby is reawakening and ready to ascend back to the top.
While many will point to the arrival of Mitchell as the catalyst to turning the Bulls’ fortunes around, credit must go to the players who have transformed from being chumps to resembling future champions.
One of those players has been fullback Warrick Gelant, who again put on a match-winning performance on Friday night that included a try and a hand in most of the Bulls’ eight tries.
Gelant’s touchdown was a gem, with the fullback taking the ball at first receiver from a scrum before stabbing through a grubber, which he gathered to score and give the hosts a 13-point cushion on the cusp of the halftime interval.
All that Gelant did on the night was to again remind Springbok coach Allister Coetzee of his immense talent and devastating attacking prowess, which could come in handy for the national team on their four-Test tour of Europe next month.
Gelant was not the only Bulls player to put up his hand for the national selectors, with wing Travis Ismaiel also putting in a strong case for inclusion with two tries and a determined performance after weeks on the sidelines because of injury.
Springbok Sevens star Tim Agaba also showed that he is a 15-man star in the making, and he could become another Bulls legend with his most effective performance in the blue jersey since joining them a few months ago.
Whether the curtain comes down on their season or not on Saturday in the aftermath of the “cat-fight” at Ellis Park, the Bulls will look to the second round of this season as their rite of passage to become Currie Cup champions.
Blue Bulls 52 – Tries: Edgar Marutlulle, Ivan van Zyl, Travis Ismaiel (2), Warrick Gelant, Marco van Staden, Burger Odendaal, JT Jackson. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (6).
Pumas 32 – Try: Jannie Stander, Willie Engelbrecht, Selom Gavor, Frank Herne. Conversions: Kobus Marais (3). Penalties: Kobus Marais (2).