Super Chris Smith delivers on the big stage for Bulls
CAPE TOWN - Chris Smith must be walking around Pretoria with an ironic smile on his face at the moment, wondering about the ups and downs of rugby.
In the second round of Super Rugby Unlocked, the Bulls flyhalf had a conversion attempt that would level the scores against the Cheetahs if he slotted it between the uprights.
But unfortunately for him and his team, he pulled the ball from about 10 metres in from the left touchline.
Smith would’ve wanted the ground to swallow him up, and coach Jake White would’ve been a frustrated figure as he had taken off Morné Steyn in the second half, and the Bulls went down 19-17.
Fast forward to Saturday night at Newlands and Smith had another chance to be a Bulls hero, and this time he delivered when it mattered.
First he produced a perfect cross-kick for Marco Jansen van Vuren to score in the corner, and then he stepped up to drill the touchline conversion – having missed a few penalties earlier – to put the Blue Bulls into a winning 22-20 lead over Western Province.
Saturday’s victory was their first Currie Cup triumph at Newlands since 2009, when Sireli Naqelevuki’s high tackle on Jaco Pretorius saw Steyn land a lengthy penalty from close to the right-hand touchline.
This time it was another flyhalf who was the hero, from the lefthand side. And Smith, who turned 26 in September, did it at a ground that he may previously have dreamt of starring at, as he attended SACS, just down the road from the stadium.
It has been that kind of season for the Bulls under White, who spoke afterwards about how proud he was of his team for pulling off an unlikely victory after prop Jacques van Rooyen was controversially red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Warrick Gelant in the 47th minute.
He mentioned how his Sharks side had done a similar job against the mighty Crusaders in Christchurch in 2014, when Jean Deysel had been given a red card, and how he had urged his Bulls players to maintain the belief that they could still beat WP.
Absolutely clutch from Chris Smith 😯![CDATA]>🔥 The moment we snatched victory from the jaws of defeat 💪#BullsFamily24#WPvBUL#CarlingCurrieCup— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) November 29, 2020
.#rugby #loverugby #sport #sports pic.twitter.com/XDqUNbrglg
White spoke about the culture that had been created at the Bulls, and it was evident at Newlands. The Bulls should never have won the match.
They went largely backwards in the scrums, were on the wrong side of referee AJ Jacobs’ whistle on many occasions, and seemed to be a bit surprised by the ferocity of the Province forwards.
In-form pivot Steyn was also absent for a second match due to Covid-19 protocols, but Smith got the job done on the night.
The Bulls absorbed the pressure from the WP pack – with captain Duane Vermeulen manhandling opposite number Siya Kolisi a few times when breaking off the back of a retreating scrum – and they scored a couple of classy tries to stay in the game, and adapted well to playing with 14 men after Van Rooyen’s departure.
They kept their composure when the going got tough, and it’s testament to the mental toughness that White and his old Springbok World Cup-winning mate, sports psychologist Henning Gericke, have brought to Loftus Versfeld.
Cornal Hendricks’ early line-break to set up Kurt-Lee Arendse’s opening try was another instance of justice for the former Blitzboks star, who had been overlooked by the Stormers when he was at Boland.
And that speaks to the spirit of this Bulls outfit. They make the right decisions most of the time, and they play like a championship side.
The Super Rugby Unlocked title is already in the bag, and they are the clear favourites for the Currie Cup as well.