The Vodacom Bulls romped to a seven-try 48-27 triumph over the Emirates Lions in Pretoria on Saturday to finish as the best-placed local side in the South African conference at the end of regular season Vodacom Super Rugby action.
They face the Hurricanes next weekend in Wellington in the quarterfinals. The men from Pretoria led 31-19 at halftime on their home turf and always controlled the tempo of the match, which also turned out to be a fitting home farewell for a number of Vodacom Bulls stalwarts who will leave Loftus at the conclusion of the competition.
The home side scored seven tries, five conversions and a penalty goal while their Gauteng neighbours replied with two tries, one conversion and four penalties.
It was a complete performance from the men in blue, who hit back with a vengeance after conceding a try to Emirates Lions No 8 number eight Hacjivah Dayimani after just 15 seconds of play.
Hanro Liebenberg (looseforward, 2), Lizo Gqoboka (prop) and Burger Odendaal (centre) each scored tries in the first half as Handre Pollard’s team turned on the style in perfect playing conditions. Cornal Hendricks (wing), Pollard (flyhalf) and Manie Libbok (replacement flyhalf) added three more tries to their tally after the break, while Pollard added the extras with his conversions and a penalty.
The Emirates Lions tried their best to stay in the fight and they relied mainly on the boot of Springbok Elton Jantjies, utilised at inside centre on this occasion, to keep them within distance of the rampant home side. In the end, the avalanche of attacks were just too much to handle for the Highvelders.
The Vodacom Bulls thoroughly deserved their convincing win and they have now qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and their playoff against the Hurricanes is one of four quarterfinals to be determined next weekend. The Emirates Lions, who have lost a lot of stalwarts to other clubs and injury, failed to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time in four years after reaching the final three years in a row.
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Hanro Liebenberg (2), Lizo Gqoboka, Burger Odendaal, Cornal Hendricks, Handre Pollard, Manie Libbok; Conversions: Pollard (5); Penalty goal: Pollard.
Emirates Lions – Tries: Hacjivah Dayimani, Cyle Brink; Conversion: Elton Jantjies; Penalty goals: Jantjies (4).