The Emirates Lions confirmed their name at the top of the South African conference with a powerful forward performance to beat the Vodacom Bulls 38-12 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday. reports Brenden Nel.
The Lions confirmed they will finish second overall in the log standings and secured a home quarterfinal next weekend at the same venue as Ruan Combrinck scored twice and their pack dominated a game against the depleted Bulls outfit.
After a stuttering start the Lions clicked into gear halfway through the first half and never looked back, taking the match eventually with ease as they took the conference title for the third year running and continued their dominance against their northern neighbours.
On a night where little went right for the Bulls, they can be proud of the performances of two forwards in particular – with Thembelani Bholi and Marco van Staden both having barnstorming games to underline their class while Travis Ismaiel had a good return to action and Jesse Kriel was always class.
HELD THE ACES
Still it was the Lions pack under the tutelage of Warren Whiteley that held the aces, with Cyle Brink the standout loose forward and Franco Mostert looking every bit the player that is a regular at test level. Their front row though would have loved the scrum battle which they won hands down and enjoyed exceptional dominance in.
Malcolm Marx confirmed he was also back to his best and will definitely have made Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus smile with another classy performance at hooker.
For all the talk of the Lions needing to win this one badly, it was the Bulls who struck the first blows, through two beautifully worked tries early on the game.
First it was Manie Libbok who scythed his way through the defence and ran 70 metres upfield, beating Elton Jantjies with so much ease that it hardly looked as if the Bok flyhalf had even tried to tackle him.
Then Van Staden showed his prowess again, taking his third breakdown steal in a relative short time to turn the ball over, with the result sent wide to Jesse Kriel who powered his way through the inevitable gaps to give the Bulls a 12-0 lead and shock the home team.
But that’s as far as it went in terms of the Bulls hopes for an upset because the Lions then turned it on up front, used their maul to good effect and started to get on top in terms of both the penalty count and the scrum and the Bulls early advantage disappeared.
It was the first lineout drive that brought the Lions success and provided the blueprint for them moving forward on the scoreboard as it split the defence, and opened up enough space for Ruan Combrinck to go in at the corner for the first of his two tries.
The Bulls gave away 10 penalties by the time the first half hour was up, but it mattered little to referee Van der Westhuizen, who continued to penalise them and keep them camped in their 22 without giving a card.
From one of those scrum penalties it was Ross Cronje who burst forward from a quick tap, and came close to the line, with Marx going over to bring the teams level.
MOMENT OF MADNESS
Then a moment of madness – an off ball shoulder charge by Pierre Schoeman on Franco Mostert was picked up by the ref and cost the Bulls a yellow card. Schoeman, who stopped two tries on the night over the line, and had a decent game everywhere but the scrum, would be embarrassed in costing his side with the indiscretion.
Just before the break it was another lineout drive that opened the space, and the blindside attack brought Courtnall Skosan his 27th Super Rugby try as the Bulls simply couldn’t plug all the holes.
The Bulls needed to start the second half better, and for a while they did, but the Lions maul rumbled downfield more than once to sap up more energy, and the scrum continued to be their achilles heel.
In the 64th minute Van der Westhuizen had enough, and a power scrum cost the ultimate as the ref ran around to award a penalty try that could have come earlier in the game.
With the Lions taking control, even the bounce of the ball went their way as a turnover ball was stabbed through by Jantjies, and bobbled horribly in front of Jamba Ulengo to bounce into Combrinck’s hands, with the winger going in for his second try of the evening and ending the game as a contest.
Aphiwe Dyantyi scored after the hooter to make it a night of celebration for the home side.
Emirates Lions – tries: Ruan Combrinck (2), Malcolm Marx, Courtnall Skosan, Penalty try, Aphiwe Dyantyi.
Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3), Combrinck.
Vodacom Bulls – tries: Manie Libbok, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Libbok (1)