Bulls show greater composure to hold off gritty Lions at Loftus Versfeld
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CAPE TOWN – It was a typical early-round Rainbow Cup SA arm wrestle that didn’t reach great heights, but the Bulls showed the better composure in the end to outlast the Lions 22-9 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
Replacement scrumhalf Zak Burger scored the decisive try with less than 15 minutes left to clinch a hard-fought victory on a breezy Pretoria night, where the home side were denied three tries following the television match official’s intervention.
It looked like Jake White’s team were going to run away with it after a superb start, with a try coming in the second minute. Having regained their own kickoff through wing Stravino Jacobs, the Bulls held on to the ball through 13 phases as they stretched the Lions defence from side to side.
In the end, flyhalf Chris Smith decided to take the direct route, and burst through a tackle to dot down.
Both teams had encouraging passages of attack in the opening 30 minutes, with the Lions’ main threat coming from star centre Wandisile Simelane.
But the Johannesburg side only had two Fred Zeilinga penalties to show for all their endeavour, as a couple of handling errors and a lost lineout stopped them in their tracks, while they also saw fullback Tiaan Swanepoel go off with what looked like a knee injury in the 22nd minute.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen would have been delighted with his team’s defence, though, as the Lions’ rush tactics put pressure on the Bulls’ ball-carriers.
The first Bulls ‘try’ that was ruled out came after the half-hour mark, when industrious young lock Janko Swanepoel appeared to force his way over – only for a referee’s review to pick up a knock-on in the build-up by scrumhalf Embrose Papier.
Still, a Smith penalty extended the Bulls’ lead to 10-6 at halftime, and although Zeilinga reduced the deficit by three points after the break, another shot at goal hit the crossbar a few minutes later.
The Lions kept attacking as the Bulls’ discipline let them down with a string of penalties conceded, but the visitors were unable to convert their pressure into points.
A yellow card for a deliberate knock-down to Lions replacement EW Viljoen with less than 20 minutes to go gave the Bulls the luck they needed to secure victory.
Yet another Bulls try, this time to Jacobs, was disallowed for obstruction at a lineout, but soon afterwards, replacement scrumhalf Zak Burger darted through following a quick throw-in to break the Lions’ resistance.
The Bulls were denied once more in the 70th minute – when Madosh Tambwe caught a superb Morné Steyn cross-kick to score – due to a skew lineout throw by Joe van Zyl, but they finished off in style with last-minute five-pointer to the dynamic blindside flank Elrigh Louw, who held off a few defenders to score.
It wasn’t a perfect performance from the Bulls, but White will be glad that his team managed to pull off the victory.
Bulls 22 – Tries: Chris Smith, Zak Burger, Elrigh Louw. Conversions: Smith (1), Morné Steyn (1). Penalty: Smith (1).
Lions 9 – Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (3).