Willie le Roux opens Loftus account as Bulls put 50 on Connacht

Willie le Roux of the Vodacom Bulls during the 2023 United Rugby Championships match between Bulls and Connacht at Loftus Stadium in Pretoria

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux was the catalyst for the Bulls in their convincing victory over Connacht in their United Rugby Championship clash in Pretoria on Saturday. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published Nov 25, 2023


Cape Town – They made heavy weather of it in the second half, but the Bulls eventually closed out a resounding 53-27 United Rugby Championship victory over Connacht at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

After a rampant first half that resulted in a 32-13 advantage at the break, the Pretoria side allowed the Irish outfit to claw their way back into the game.

A controversial yellow card to hooker Akker van der Merwe halted the Bulls’ momentum, when it could easily have been a try at the other end for Zak Burger.

TMO Andrea Piardi managed to convince referee Gianluca Gnecchi that Van der Merwe had been lying on the body of a Connacht player at a ruck in order to tackle their scrumhalf, but the ball appeared to be out already when the Bulls No 2 knocked the ball back out of Colm Reilly’s hands.

Courageous Bulls defence

Connacht hooker Tadgh McElroy scored a few minutes later to make it 32-20 with half-an-hour to go, and the Bulls had to defend courageously with 14 men and managed to avoid conceding any further points.

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux was the catalyst, delivering a superb 50-22 kick that took the Bulls back into the Connacht 22.

The home team rumbled forward and forced a cynical infringement and yellow card for Connacht replacement Conor Oliver, and from the resultant tap penalty, No 8 Nizaam Carr finished off smartly to put the result beyond doubt.

It was a welcome victory for Jake White’s team after they lost to Edinburgh in Scotland last week, but the director of rugby will know that his team can be even better than the performance they dished up on Saturday.

White would have been pleased with the first half, though, as the Bulls varied their play cleverly by going up the middle with their forwards, but then also attacking the blindside.

They led 15-3 after 20 minutes after well-worked opening tries to Van der Merwe and Elrigh Louw, while captain and lock Ruan Nortjé was prominent in the tight exchanges and played like an extra loose forward as he was often in support of the ball-carrier.

Nortjé’s work-rate was rewarded when he finished off scrumhalf Zak Burger’s dummy and break around a ruck to make it 25-6.

Connacht stayed in the game when left wing Diarmuid Kilgallen had enough pace to go over in the left-hand corner, but the Bulls completed the first half in fine style when Le Roux and David Kriel combined to see the No 15 score on his URC debut, to the delight of the Loftus faithful.

Connacht are always an enterprising team with ball-in-hand, and tested the Bulls defence with clever offloads and good continuity on attack, but the Pretoria side showed real tenacity to concede only three tries on a hot afternoon, with the 36-degree temperature resulting in water breaks.

Inside centre Kriel was rewarded for another busy outing with a late second-half touchdown, before replacement flyhalf Chris Smith ran a good line to finish off Simphiwe Matanzima’s pass to take the Bulls over the 50-point mark.


Bulls 53 – Tries: Akker van der Merwe, Elrigh Louw, Ruan Nortjé, Willie le Roux, Nizaam Carr, David Kriel, Chris Smith. Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (5), Smith (1). Penalties: Van der Walt (2).

Connacht 27 – Tries: Diarmuid Kilgallen, Tadgh McElroy, Shamus Hurley-Langton. Conversions: Jack Carty (3). Penalties: Carty (2).