The Vodacom Blue Bulls kept their semifinal hopes alive as they ran in eight tries to beat the Steval Pumas 52-32 (halftime 26-13) in their Currie Cup match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday evening.
A perfect evening greeted the players and provided them with a platform to play an expansive game but with a potential Currie Cup semifinal on the cards both teams started the match with caution.
The home team may have had the advantage in the opening minutes but it was the Pumas and their sensational driving maul that scored first as lock Jannie Stander crashed over the whitewash to open their account.
The Blue Bulls responded within minutes as hooker Edgar Marutlulle scored a converted try in the corner to draw level.
Prop Pierre Schoeman has had an incredible run in the Currie Cup to date and showed his magic feet as he danced his way out of several tackles to offload to a charging Ivan van Zyl with the nippy scrumhalf scoring his second try in as many weeks.
Flyhalf Kobus Marais pulled back two penalty goals for the visitors but the Blue Bulls opted to run at them which paid dividends as a sensational run by fullback Warrick Gelant gave wing Travis Ismaiel the half gap needed to cut straight through the defence to score a converted try in the 35th minute.
Gelant has used this year’s Currie Cup to state his claim on the Springbok no.15 jersey and a deft grubber, when nothing was on, saw the former Hoërskool Outeniqua scholar score the bonus point try. Flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff may have missed the conversion but his three earlier attempts were enough to give the Blue Bulls a comfortable 26-13 lead at the break.
The opening minutes of the second half were much like the first as both teams tried to break each other down but this time it was the home team that scored first as FNB UP-Tuks stalwart and flank Marco van Staden pumped his legs hard to power through a few tackles on the left hand touchline to score a try in the 47th minute.
The influence of head coach, John Mitchell, has to be credited as the Blue Bulls have been growing in confidence with their ball-in-hand approach while not being afraid to try different things on the field.
The scintillating Gelant put in a sublime cross-kick for captain and outside centre Burger Odendaal to collect, interchanging with his inside centre JT Jackson and ultimately sliding over the whitewash untouched as the home team started to pull away on the scoreboard.
Odendaal’s efforts were followed up by Ismaiel as the wing capped off his return from injury with a brace of tries.
The Pumas were galvanised into action with 20 minutes left on the clock as replacement flank Francois Kleinhans burrowed his way over the tryline in the 61st minute but a magnificent run down the touchline by Blitzbok and flank Tim Agaba set up a try for Jackson as the Blue Bulls racked up 52 points after Boshoff kicked the extras.
The visitors managed to secure a bonus point as wing Selom Gavor and replacement hooker Frankie Herne pulled back tries for the Pumas.
Gavor, who was denied a try in the first half, got his name on the scoresheet with ten minutes to go as the silky runner gassed his way to the tryline after beating a few would be tacklers.
Ill-discipline by the home team saw Schoeman receive a yellow card for repeated team infringements which opened the door for the Pumas to utilise their driving maul with Herne the player to crash over moments later.
Despite their inspired come back, it was not enough for the Pumas who lost flank Chris Cloete to a yellow card in the dying minutes. Play continued into extra time with the Vodacom Blue Bulls eventually running the ball out to comprehensively beat the Steval Pumas 52-32.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Tries: Edgar Marutlulle, Ivan van Zyl, Travis Ismaiel (2), Warrick Gelant, Marco van Staden, Burger Odendaal, JT Jackson; Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (6).
Steval Pumas – Tries: Jannie Stander, Francois Kleinhans, Selom Gavor, Frankie Herne; Conversions: Kobus Marais (3); Penalties:Marais (2).