CAPE TOWN - The Bulls didn’t play the most flowing game of rugby, but coach Jake White was satisfied with the fighting spirit shown by his team in the 22-9 Rainbow Cup SA victory over the Lions on Saturday night.
While the Pretoria outfit ended up scoring three tries to zero at Loftus Versfeld, that didn’t tell the full story, as their Gauteng neighbours gave them a hard time throughout during a windy night on a muddy pitch.
In addition, the Bulls had three disallowed tries due to various infringements picked up by the match officials, which kept the Lions in the game as well.
They started superbly as wing Stravino Jacobs won the kickoff, which saw the home side go through 13 phases before flyhalf Chris Smith burst through the tackles of Jannie du Plessis and André Warner to score within two minutes.
But the Lions’ rush defence disrupted the Bulls’ attacking game, and White acknowledged that his team should’ve used chip and grubber kicks to greater effect.
“Sometimes you’ve got to win those sorts of games. Credit to the Lions – I thought that they played with a lot of emotion. They were really good at the breakdown, and obviously they were trying really hard to slow the ball down,” the former Bok coach said.
“If you imagine that in the first half, we had 21 minutes ball-in-play... and our average in the Currie Cup was 27 minutes for the whole game. So, we literally played almost a whole game of rugby in the first half, which just showed how difficult it was for us.
“But yeah, a win’s a win. There were a couple of times there where we could have maybe taken those opportunities. When you play at this level, you’ve got to find ways to win, and I’m proud that at least we found a way to win the game.
“I told the players now, every team will come for us. If you won trophies, then everybody wants to beat you. We had to vasbyt to pull that game through.”
Despite being unable to put together any meaningful phases, the Lions were still in the game at 10-9 up to the 66th minute – with flyhalf Fred Zeilinga having also missed a penalty in the 50th when his kick hit the crossbar, which would have put the visitors into the lead.
Replacement Bulls scrumhalf Zak Burger finished off an impressive attack to break the back of the Lions defence and set up a 17-9 lead, while Elrigh Louw crossed the try-line in the final minute.
To make matters worse for the Lions, sharp-shooter Tiaan Swanepoel had to leave the field with a knee injury that coach Ivan van Rooyen said “sounds quite serious” after just 12 minutes.
“It was quite an intense battle, and they managed to put us in our own 22 in the last 20 minutes. We played all the way out, made an error, and they just kicked us back into it,” Van Rooyen said.
“Proud of the guys who got their first caps, and proud of how the guys wanted to play. Obviously not happy with the loss, so back to the drawing board for us, and next weekend is the next challenge.
“We had three first-cappers tonight, and our loose forwards’ average age was something like 21. So, like I said, not nice to lose, but some really exciting youngsters that got the opportunity tonight to show what they’ve got.”
The Bulls will travel to Cape Town to take on the Stormers next Saturday (6.15pm kickoff), while the Lions will go to Durban to face the Sharks (4pm).