PRETORIA – The Bulls produced one of their best performances of the season as they ran in seven tries to beat the Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday and qualify for this year’s Super Rugby quarter-finals.
Pote Human’s men ended the league campaign as South Africa’s best team, having won eight of their 16 games, to be fifth overall. They will now travel to Wellington to play New Zealand’s second best team, the Hurricanes, who finished fourth, in the quarter-finals for a place in the last four.
For the Lions, who managed to cross the tryline just twice in a hugely entertaining game, it is the end of the road. They finished in ninth place overall – one place and one point outside the playoff places – and won’t feature in the knock-out rounds, for the first time since 2015.
In the other quarter-finals this coming weekend, the top-placed Crusaders will host the Highlanders (eighth), who snuck in on the final weekend, the Jaguares (second) will play the Chiefs (seventh), and the Brumbies (third) will entertain the Sharks (sixth), who also snuck in at the death after beating the Stormers in Cape Town.
The action at Loftus Versfeld started as early as the opening seconds when the Lions scored through No. 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, who was sent on his way by wing Aphiwe Dyantyi who received the kick-off and darted up-field before off-loading to his team-mate. The conversion by Elton Jantjies put the visitors 7-0 up inside a minute, but it would be the Lions’ only try of the half as the Bulls ran riot.
Hanro Liebenberg, Marco van Staden, Lizo Gqoboka and Burger Odendaal all crossed for the home team before the break as the Bulls dominated most of the play. While the Lions created a few other opportunities they couldn’t find a way across the tryline and had to rely on the reliable boot of Jantjies and a dropped-goal by Andries Coetzee to keep them in the match.
Jantjies slotted three first half penalties to help his team close the gap to 12 points at the interval, and soon after half-time that gap was closed to four points following a fourth Jantjies penalty and a try by Cyle Brink.
The Lions were at that stage very much in the contest and asked plenty of the Bulls defence, but in a stunning 11-minute spell midway through the second half the game turned in favour of the Bulls.
Wing Cornal Hendricks showed strength, pace and skill to bump off tackles by Coetzee and Tyrone Green to score a stunning try in the right-hand corner and he was followed by Handre Pollard and Manie Libbok, who both crossed the tryline to stun the Lions and end their chances of a fourth straight appearance in the quarter-finals.
The win by the Bulls was their second against the Lions this season, after they earlier also beat the recent three-time runners-up at Ellis Park, while the Lions end the competition having only managed to win once in six matches against local opposition this year – a win against the Stormers at Ellis Park a few weeks ago.
Bulls (31) 48
Tries: Liebenberg, Van Staden, Gqoboka, Odendaal, Hendricks, Pollard, Libbok; Conversions: Pollard (5); Penalty: Pollard
Lions (19) 27
Tries: Dayimani, Brink; Conversion: Jantjies; Penalties: Jantjies (4); Drop-goal: Coetzee