RYAN VREDE watched the Blue Bulls qualify for the Currie Cup semi-finals with a 50-29 victory over the Golden Lions at Ellis Park.
The Bulls will travel to Kings Park to face the Sharks in one of next Saturday’s semi-finals, but for the first quarter of the match they where in real danger of finishing bottom and having to play a relegation-promotion match to retain their status in the Premier Division.
They trailed by 10 points and were on the ropes as the Lions ran everything. However they regrouped, improved their defensive accuracy and attacking potency to emerge comfortable victors after a testing first 60 minutes.
Mention must be made of Morne Steyn’s goal-kicking, which has been poor this season. The flyhalf amassed 22 points with his boot, many of those kicks from difficult angles.
The Lions, who had already qualified for a home play-off, played with a freedom that reflected their unassailable log position, spreading the ball at most opportunities. They also benefited from Butch James’s pin-point goalkicking – the flyhalf landing two penalties before they scored a try that was birthed deep in their half and featured slick interplay.
But that was as good as it got for the Lions, the Bulls pegging them back through Steyn’s boot before they matched the Lions’ try for wow-factor – Jacques Potgieter cutting the defensive line at speed before offloading to Bjorn Basson to score. Steyn banked the conversion and a couple of penalties to give the Bulls a 22-16 half-time lead.
The Lions had opted to rest a string of their first-choice players, but some of those were introduced and their influence was immediate. Twice they came away from the Bulls’ 22m with points, James sinking a brace of penalties to level the score. However, the Bulls cut loose once more to regain the lead, Arno Botha feeding Jano Vermaak with a pass that appeared to drift forward. Steyn converted from the touchline to take his side seven points ahead.
But the Lions responded brilliantly and instantly, driving into the Bulls’ red zone through intelligent, speedy and powerful phase play before Anthony Volmink wriggled out of a tackle en route to scoring. James kicked his seventh successful goal of the evening to level the scores at 29-29.
With 20 minutes to play, Botha emerged from an impressive rolling maul and powered over the line and four minutes later the Bulls pounced on a senseless quick lineout feed in the Lions’ 22m, Dewald Potgiter crossing the chalk for the try that broke the defending champions’ resistance.
Akona Ndungane gathered another wayward pass shortly thereafter to pave the way for them to put 50 on their Gauteng rivals and set up what has the potential to be a spectacle of note against the Sharks.