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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Jacques Van Rooyen © Gallo Images

Lions crush Bulls revival



The Emirates Lions answered so many questions – both of themselves and of the Vodacom Bulls as they cruised to a 49-35 win in their Vodacom Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

In the build-up to the game and after the Bulls win over the Hurricanes last week, the glimmer of hope existed that the Bulls are on their way back and could mix it with the big guns of the competition again.

But it took a blunt instrument in possibly the least expected area of the game, to dent those hopes as the rolling maul gave the Lions the edge they needed away from home to keep their dominance over the Bulls team.

The maul provided three of the opening four tries for the Lions, but it was the double yellow card blow just before hour mark that killed off any chances the Bulls had on the game. Their own indiscipline, perhaps naivety and gusto were blown away when both replacements Conrad van Vuuren and Nick de Jager had to spend 10 minutes on the sidelines each.

It meant that the fightback that inevitably came from the brave Bulls side was snuffed out easily, as the more street-smart and incredibly mature Lions side underlined their class to make it three wins from three and proved why they still are South Africa’s best side.

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While it wasn’t surprising to see the Lions play in this fashion, it did provide Bulls coach John Mitchell with a blueprint of how far his team still need to travel. Exuberance and passion are one thing, but it was the Lions who controlled the game throughout, and were given the spoils for their efforts.

For once it wasn’t the scrum, or the wingers that stole the limelight, but the rolling maul which confused and split the Bulls defence and gave the Lions an early advantage.

It didn’t take a genius to see the Bulls weak-point as first Ruan Dreyer from five metres out and then Jacques van Rooyen turned their advantage into try-time gold to put them into double digits before the Bulls knew what hit them.

The Lions forward pack were devastating in their execution in the loose, with Malcolm Marx standing tall once again, but players such as Cyle Brink, Marvin Orie and Franco Mostert easily earned themselves plaudits with their display.

Out wide Elton Jantjies controlled the game well, Rohan Janse van Rensburg showed why he should always be playing at this level and the two Lions wingers of Aphiwe Dyantyi and Sylvian Mahuza were dangerous as always.

The Bulls were always playing against the grain. From the moment when they were 14-3 down they needed to play catch-up and there were some memorable performances. Handre Pollard’s cameo at 12 was inspired, while Hanro Liebenberg stood out. Jesse Kriel tried hard and Travis Ismaiel scored a beauty of a try at the end. But for the most part they weren’t in the same ballpark as the Lions and it showed.

That didn’t mean the Bulls didn’t throw everything they could into the game. After going down by two early tries they clawed their way back to 14-9 thanks to penalties by Marnitz Boshoff. But then a stunning grubber by Jantjies put Orie in under the poles and the Lions extended their lead.

Johnny Kotze brought the Bulls back on the brink of halftime after a perfect cross kick by Handre Pollard jumped up into his arms, making it a seven-point ball game at halftime.

Pollard hit back a minute into the second half to give the Bulls hope, as Andre Warner absolutely flattened Ross Cronje and Pollard picked up the ball to run through and score.

But then the problems started for the Bulls as the Lions pack took control. It was another lineout drive that set up Malcolm Marx to barge over from close range, and the Bulls were issued a warning.

Two minutes later Conrad van Vuuren, only on the field a minute or so, got his marching orders and two minutes after that it was De Jager dispatched and a penalty try under the posts. In the space of six minutes it had gone from 15 vs 15 to 15 vs 13, and 21-all to the Lions surging to 35-21 up.

It got worse as the numerical advantage allowed Warrick Gelant to be skinned by Mahuza on the outside before Ross Cronje took the Lions close to the half century with an inside ball off the lineout from Warren Whiteley.

The Bulls came back in the end through tries by Lizo Gqoboka, and Ismaiel’s stunning run from 70 metres out which included a goose step, a dummy and a sprint. But it was nowhere near the level needed to down last season’s finalists.

The Lions march on in confidence knowing they are in red-hot form at the moment. But for the Bulls, who leave Sunday for their trip to the Antipodes, their revival has suffered a massive reality check.

It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Scorers

Vodacom Bulls – tries: Johnny Kotze, Handre Pollard, Lizo Gqoboka, Travis Ismaiel Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff, Francois Brummer (2). Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff (3)

Emirates Lions – tries: Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Marvin Orie, Malcolm Marx, Penalty try, Sylvian Mahuza, Ross Cronje. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (6)



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