Sanele Nohamba the hero as Lions outlast Bulls at Loftus

Lions scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba celebrates as he goes over for a try against the Bulls. Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Lions scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba celebrates as he goes over for a try against the Bulls. Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock/BackpagePix

Published Mar 4, 2023


Cape Town – Sanele Nohamba scored 24 points as the Lions finally broke their duck against the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship with an inspired 29-25 victory at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Johannesburg side have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent months, but have turned things around over the last two weeks – having also beaten Glasgow Warriors 35-24 at Ellis Park last Saturday.

Jake White’s Bulls team came off a bye following their 23-19 defeat to the Stormers in Pretoria on February 18, and they looked lethargic in the first half as the visitors made all the play.

The Lions were clearly still buzzing from last week’s win over Glasgow, and did the simple things well to run up a 20-3 lead after just 24 minutes.

Following early penalties from Nohamba and Morné Steyn, Lions lock Ruben Schoeman rescued his team from a tricky situation with a brilliant turnover five metres from his own tryline, and that set the tone for the rest of the half.

The Bulls failed to deal with a Nohamba box-kick, and the Joburg side won the ball back and spread it to the left, where fullback Quan Horn put wing Edwill van der Merwe for the opening touchdown.

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The livewire Nohamba slotted another three-pointer, and then grabbed the second try in the 24th minute with a superb piece of skill as he took a quick tap penalty and caught the Bulls defence fast asleep to race over.

It was a long road back for the Bulls at 20-3 down, but they showed some fight by building a few phases with ball-in-hand and being much more direct, and it paid off when captain Ruan Nortjé provided the impetus for fullback Wandisile Simelane to score.

The home side were then denied another five-pointer after scrumhalf Embrose Papier rounded off a thrilling counter-attack, but it was ruled out for a forward pass from Sbu Nkosi to Papier.

But just before halftime, Bulls No 11 Nkosi got his reward following a driving maul and perfect cross-kick from Steyn, and they were back in the contest at 23-13.

The introduction of Cyle Brink off the bench in place of WJ Steenkamp at blindside flank brought some much-needed grunt to the Bulls pack, and he made a significant difference with his abrasive carrying and big tackles.

The Bulls nearly pulled off another try when wing Sibongile Novuka knocked-on close to the line, but the No 14 made up for it with an outstanding kick inside that set up Simelane’s second touchdown.

Nortjé’s team had reclaimed the initiative, and suddenly their defence was also much better as they knocked back the Lions’ ball-carriers.

Their perseverance paid off in the 62nd minute when hooker Johan Grobbelaar stayed patient at the back of a maul to score, and Steyn slotted the conversion to put the Bulls into a 25-23 lead.

The Lions, though, maintained their tempo on attack, and Nohamba slotted two further penalties to make it 29-25 with about 10 minutes left.

The Bulls had one final chance to clinch the victory with a lineout inside the Lions 22, but despite a powerful drive, they were held up just short after the hooter to register their fourth consecutive defeat across the URC and Champions Cup.


Bulls 25 – Tries: Wandisile Simelane (2), Sbu Nkosi, Johan Grobbelaar. Conversion: Morné Steyn (1). Penalty: Steyn (1).

Lions 29 – Tries: Edwill van der Merwe, Sanele Nohamba. Conversions: Nohamba (2). Penalties: Nohamba (5).