The Bulls have become the first South African team in four years to beat the Lions in Joburg.
They did so in emphatic fashion here on Saturday afternoon and ended the Lions’ 14 match unbeaten run against local opposition going back to February 15 2015, when the Stormers got the better of the Lions.
Led by the dynamic 37-year-old hooker Schalk Brits – who seemed to have a point to prove – the Bulls simply bullied the Lions in all departments; their big forwards winning most of the small battles up front. And those added up to total domination, which lasted for the duration of the match.
Brits copped some criticism in the week for his decision to come out of retirement last year to push for a place in the Springboks’ World Cup squad, at seemingly the expense of Akker van der Merwe, who announced in the week he would be leaving the Sharks for Sale in England. Brits though showed he is far from done with rugby after delivering a master-class here on Saturday.
He was the driving force in the Bulls’ engine-room: he ran hard at the Lions, linked with the backs and even stole ball on the ground. He easily won his duel with the Lions’ new skipper Malcolm Marx.
But there was a lot more to the Bulls’ game than the veteran hooker. The entire pack played with energy and aggression and they didn’t give the Lions’ forwards a sniff. And the backs, too, rushed the home team with wing Rosko Specman a danger every time he touched the ball.
Most impressive of the Bulls’ performance was the fact they were able to last the full 80 minutes playing at the tempo they did. They only got back in South Africa on Monday after travelling back from Argentina where they came unstuck against the Jaguares. They weren’t as clinical in the second half as they were in the first 40 but they did enough to out-last the Lions.
Under new coach Pote Human they have now knocked over the Stormers with a 40-3 score in Pretoria and now beaten the Lions at Ellis Park. They are well on their way to being the team to beat in South Africa this year.
The Bulls took charge from the start and spent the majority of the first 15 minutes camped in Lions territory. And it was only the match-saving tackles by the likes of Kwagga Smith, Harold Vorster and Ruan Combrinck that prevented the visitors from crossing the whitewash, but two penalties by Handre Pollard allowed the Bulls to lead 6-0 when the 30-minute mark approached.
Then it was the turn of Duane Vermeulen to barge over the line from close range and on the stroke of half-time Pollard slotted a third penalty to give his side a comfortable 14-0 lead at the break.
Pollard, who led the side in the absence of Lood de Jager, was outstanding as team leader and as decision-maker, opting to take every kick at goal that was on offer and he duly obliged by nailing six penalties and a conversion. He kept the score ticking over and ultimately making it impossible for the Lions to see a way back.
In the second half the Lions showed greater urgency and they actually managed to score two tries but Pollard’s boot and a late try by Warrick Gelant ensured a deserved and brilliant win for the Bulls.
The Lions never looked so out of sorts as they did in the first half here. They were out-muscled on the day, given scraps to play with and now need to regroup quickly before the Jaguares visit this week.
Lions (00) 12
Tries: Sadie, Smith; Conversion: Jantjies
Bulls (14) 30
Tries: Vermeulen, Gelant; Conversion: Pollard; Penalties: Pollard (6)@jacq_west