Cape Town – Even when they came under pressure, two-try hero Wandisile Simelane felt the way the Bulls managed to “stay in the fight” was the crucial factor in Saturday night’s 39-28 Champions Cup victory over the Exeter Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld.
The English club kept hitting back whenever the Bulls scored, going from 7-7 to 15-14, and when the Pretoria side raced into a 32-14 lead in the second half, the visitors pulled it back to 32-21 with 15 minutes to go.
But Simelane’s second touchdown, in which he snatched a Chiefs pass to intercept the ball and race away, secured a welcome victory for a team missing their ill coach Jake White.
While the Bulls No 13 revelled in the ball-in-hand attacking approach, he acknowledged the powerful display from the forwards, who dominated in the scrums and imposed themselves physically on the Exeter pack.
“I thought we played really well. We stuck to what works for us, and stuck to our game-plan coming into this match. We pitched up physically and defensively, and were pretty happy with the effort from the boys,” Simelane said in a video posted on the Bulls social media channels.
“We knew we were going to be under the pump at certain stages of the game. The Chiefs are a top team, so we were mentally prepared that things sometimes won’t go our way.
“But we just had to stay in the fight, stick it out and if we do that, things will change. And when that did happen, we managed to take our opportunities, which was great from the boys.
Petition to sign Wandisile Simelane up to @BafanaBafana ✍— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 14, 2023
Great football skills from the @BlueBullsRugby 1️⃣3️⃣ who then scores after a somewhat favourable bounce 👀#HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/SyN3YTu7Ml
“We always try to take our opportunities when we get that, and tonight, it was just one of those days when the ball stuck, and we appreciate days like these and must just work hard so that we can get more days like these.
“When you are having fun, you are probably playing well, so we always try to have fun out there.”
Fullback Kurt-Lee Arendse produced a typically thrilling performance despite not getting onto the score-sheet, and was duly chosen as the Man of the Match.
“It was very tough in the first half, I must say. But the forwards kept us in the game, and I am just happy for the win,” the Springbok star said afterwards.
“It was incredible. When the forwards come to the party, the backs can jol – and that’s what it’s all about.”
Next up for the Bulls is a marathon trip to France to take on Lyon in the Champions Cup on Friday (10pm SA time kickoff), and they will be hopeful of pulling off another victory at the Stade Gerland, after a second-string side won 42-36 at Loftus in December.
Bulls 39 – Tries: Elrigh Louw, David Kriel, Ruan Vermaak, Wandisile Simelane (2), Johan Grobbelaar. Conversions: Chris Smith (2), Johan Goosen (1). Penalty: Smith (1).
Exeter 28 – Tries: Josh Hodge, Solomone Kata, Jannes Kirsten, Jack Innard. Conversions: Joe Simmonds (2), Harvey Skinner (2).