Bulls keep cup hopes alive
The Vodacom Blue Bulls had to show grit and determination, but they kept their Absa Currie Cup title defence alive with a narrow, hard-fought 24-21 victory over the Xerox Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The win moved the Bulls back into the top three with 33 points, one ahead of the Cheetahs while the Lions dropped to fifth on 31 points. But both teams still have lots to play for as the Currie Cup enters the final three weeks of league competition this coming week.
But in a game that was evenly poised throughout, two yellow cards played a massive part in the result, with the Bulls utilizing their 10 minutes against 14 men much better than the Lions.
It was always going to be a game where one incident would decide the match, but you have to feel for Wikus van Heerden, who was dispatched for his second high tackle in the game, even though replays showed that the assistant referee’s call was rather harsh.
In a game that was balanced at 12-9 at that stage in the Bulls' favour, the yellow gave them the perfect chance to up the ante, which they did in style, scoring two tries in the process.
Even though Jacques-Louis Potgieter was yellow-carded just after Van Heerden returned to the field, the score had gone from 12-9 to 24-9 in that period. The Lions created their own comeback rally at the end, but some heroic saves from the Bulls were the difference in the end.
Both teams will be kicking themselves for their bad form on the night, as Potgieter missed four kicks, two of which were absolute sitters. Jantjies did little better as he hit the post twice in the three kicks he missed on the night.
The Lions scrum was solid, and Murray, Michael Killian, Jantjies and Derrick Minnie were all good on the day. For the Bulls Francois Hougaard, Flip van der Merwe, Kruger and Chiliboy Ralepelle stood out.
After almost an hour of absorbing hard collisions, too many mistakes and too little finishing, Van Heerden’s yellow was the breach that changed everything.
The Bulls took the penalty and sent it into the corner, trying to put up their trademark lineout drive. Even though the Lions managed to counter, the drive disintegrated and Bulls No 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze broke through to have an open run to the line.
Minutes later the Bulls won a crucial turnover outside the Lions' 22-metre area, took the ball up before spinning it to midfielder Stefan Watermeyer, who looked to pass, but then handed off Doppies la Grange with such ease that he was over the line before La Grange could get his face out of the dirt.
It looked all over at 24-9 but when Potgieter was dispatched with 10 minutes to go, the Bulls certainly had to dig deep to hang on to their lead.
The Lions threw everything at them, with desperation on defence the order of the day. If you have to look for heroes on defence, Gerhard van der Heever’s two tackles on defence, before Juandre Kruger stuck out a large hand to stop a try-scoring pass from Van Heerden to Jano Vermaak, will go down as two of them.
Seconds later Gary Botha stole a ruck ball on his own tryline to save the Bulls again, but the Lions just kept on coming.
Eventually something had to give, and after Elton Jantjies surged to the line, stopping a metre short, La Grange picked up and dived over.
The Lions kept on moving it wide, trying to exploit the overlap and again pounded the Bulls line, this time with Waylon Murray finding the extra space to bring them within three points.
But the Bulls got the ball from the lineout, and just shut down the attack in favour of a pick and go that devoured the last minutes on the clock, holding out for a massively important victory.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Tries: Gerrit-Jan van Velze, Stefan Watermeyer.
Conversion: Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Penalties: Potgieter (4).
Xerox Lions – Tries: Doppies la Grange, Waylon Murray. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (3).