Cape Town – David Kriel grabbed a brace as the Blue Bulls overturned a disastrous first-round Currie Cup defeat to beat the Pumas 24-17 at the Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.
The Pretoria side were hammered 63-15 at Loftus Versfeld in their opening match in March, but produced a sweet victory on Saturday to stay alive in the semi-final race.
Jake White’s team are now on 31 log points, level with Western Province (fourth) and the Lions (fifth), but are sixth on points difference with two league games left – against the Griffons (home) and Cheetahs (home).
They will be delighted with the fighting spirit shown against the defending champions in Mbombela, despite their handling letting them down throughout the game, with Kriel’s second touchdown in the 70th minute securing a hard-fought victory.
The Pumas were on top in the early stages, with flyhalf Tinus de Beer slotting two penalties for a 6-0 lead.
The home side’s rush defence also worked smoothly as they disrupted the Bulls attack by closing down their space and often forcing knock-ons.
The visitors seldom varied their play, where flyhalf Johan Goosen could have looked for space behind the Pumas backline with his boot instead of just passing the ball down the line.
But the Bulls eventually found their groove, with Ruan Vermaak, Elrigh Louw and Marcell Coetzee carrying strongly at close quarters before Nizaam Carr made the final pass to Kriel for the first try in the 18th minute.
The Bulls’ kicking game, though, wasn’t always accurate, with Goosen, Kriel and Embrose Papier all booting the ball over the dead-ball line.
But the Pumas’ scrum started buckling the longer the match wore on, and the Bulls struck again after half-an-hour as they moved the ball quickly away from a lineout, with Carr again delivering the scoring pass, this time to Goosen.
De Beer banged over a penalty to make it 14-9 at halftime, and slotted a fourth three-pointer before the final quarter to turn it into a two-point game.
Goosen, though, stretched the lead to five points again with his own penalty, but then the Pumas hit back with the try of the match by fullback Devon Williams, who slipped through a few tackles to dot down – although one of the passes earlier in the move looked forward.
However, De Beer missed the conversion, which meant that the scores were level at 17-17 with 15 minutes left.
Both teams kept pushing for victory, but an error by Pumas centre Diego Appollis – who kicked the ball straight into touch – resulted in a Bulls lineout just outside their opponents’ 22.
The Pretoria outfit maintained their composure to edge their way towards the tryline, and replacement scrumhalf Keagan Johannes spotted space on the right and threw a beautiful long pass to Kriel to dive over on the right.
Goosen drilled the touchline conversion through the posts, and the Bulls held on for a memorable victory.
Pumas 17 – Try: Devon Williams. Penalties: Tinus de Beer (4).
Blue Bulls 24 – Tries: David Kriel (2), Johan Goosen. Conversions: Goosen (3). Penalty: Goosen (1).