The Bulls’ heroes: Stravino, Duane among the stand-outs in Currie Cup semi-final win over Lions
CAPE TOWN – The Bulls had to weather a fight back from the Lions before closing out a 26-21 victory on Saturday to advance to the Currie Cup final against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld.
There were a number of unsung heroes for Jake White’s team on the day, such as the tough-tackling Marco van Staden and Marco Jansen van Vuren, who had to come in at outside centre at short notice for the injured Stedman Gans.
But here were some of the stand-out players that made the difference for the home side…
The Paarl Gym product ended the Under-21 competition as the top try-scorer with seven to help the Blue Bulls clinch the title, and he proved his worth once more with a brace against the Lions. Shrugged off two mistakes – he was unable to field a high ball that led to Wandisile Simelane’s try, and also dropped the ball in the act of scoring – by claiming his second touchdown to clinch the victory.
“Stravino should’ve had three – I don’t know what he was thinking there! The time and space is a bit different in senior rugby,” White said.
“But let’s not forget that he’s just come out of the junior age-groups. The carry that Stravino did on the edge there, you talk about a young outside back who basically just dominated in that carry. That’s good for him, but it’s very good for a team to have a look at a youngster like that who dominates. It just has a domino effect on a team.”
Had one wrecking-ball run when he bumped Jaco Visagie out of the way, and put in other big hits on defence as well. But the big play came when he opted to have a penalty kicked into touch instead of going for posts, and the move paid off when Johan Grobbelaar scored from the lineout.
“You mustn’t underestimate the value of a good captain. Duane was outstanding today. The manner in which he handled the guys, how he spoke to the players. Remember that we went from 14-0 up to 14-14 just six minutes after halftime,” White said.
“It’s an outstanding trait that a captain can still display calmness and speak calmly to them behind the poles. But as he just said now in the change room, it is unbelievable to see that this group of players have a determination.
“Duane played very well, and he was part of the impact we made. I’m sure the other teams could see that he was on another level – you want your crucial players to play their best rugby.”
The former sevens star chased every kick with great determination, was strong in the tackle – where he dislodged the ball a few times from the Lions ball-carriers – and also had a few exciting runs with ball-in-hand. This all came after a lengthy absence due to Covid-19 protocols.
“Kurt-Lee hasn’t played since the 12th of December, and to get effort errors like that – often they are going to make mistakes, but the effort they showed when they chase… Kurt-Lee Arendse just told me now that this is an unbelievably good group of people. Duane did well, but there is a special thing that is happening in this team,” White said.
The Springbok loosehead prop had Jannie du Plessis in all sorts of trouble in the scrums and won three early penalties. And even when the heat came on from giant Lions replacement Carlu Sadie, Gqoboka stood his ground and maintained his discipline throughout. Also made a couple of powerful carries and tackles.
Another player who was out of action recently due to Covid-19 protocols, Hendricks showed that he had lost none of the hunger that made him one of the Bulls’ stars in Super Rugby Unlocked. He ran with purpose and troubled the Lions, was a rock on defence and was chosen as the Man of the Match.
Bulls support staff
With the temperature soaring into the mid-30s, Blue Bulls president Willem Strauss revealed that team manager Elias Bennett and the rest of the support staff had gone out of their way to ensure the players could handle the heat.
“Just an interesting personal observation today at Loftus: in sweltering heat of 36 degrees, the Bulls substitutes were sitting underneath umbrellas, while our opponents reserves had no protection,” Strauss said.
“In the second half, the opposition’s reserves was sitting underneath a couple of spare Vodacom Bulls branded umbrellas. It says a lot about the professionalism of Edgar (Rathbone, chief executive), Jake and their support staff. Sometimes, at this level, it’s the small things that make a big difference...
“Also at the water breaks, the Bulls received ice cold towels while the opponents stood in the sun. Well done Elias (Bennett, team manager)!!”