Bulls keep record intact

Date published: February 28 2009

Wet conditions did not dampen the Bulls' early-season win column as they defeated spirited local rivals the Lions 16-9 at Ellis Park.

Wet conditions did not dampen the Bulls' early-season win column as they defeated spirited local rivals the Lions 16-9 at Ellis Park.

The 2007 champions are up there with the competition's form teams at the moment but, due to torrential rain, failed to continue as the only winning outfit to have picked up a bonus point in each of their outings. However, despite their lack of tries on Saturday, there is no doubt they will be feared once again just two years on from their memorable Durban triumph.

The contest was always going to be physical up front between these two South African neighbours, with the contact not disappointing as stormy skies – weather that scuppered the cricket Test match – limited large parts of back play.

Therefore, territory was always going to be key so when the Lions made a late call to move Earl Rose to replacement duty, in place of Andre Pretorius, one sensed the hosts were attempting to sure up their game – the intelligent Rose appearing later on as things hotted up.

However, it was Frans Ludeke's men who began more sprightly position-wise as Zane Kirchner found the perfect touch before tracking back to calmly ground a well-worked Lions counter from halfway.

Let's not forget that the Johannesburg franchise had failed to beat the Bulls in three years and seemed to be going behind on thirteen minutes but for Morn̩ Steyn dragging a very kickable penalty wide of the uprights. They did not have to wait long for their score though, and it was Super 14's man in form Pierre Spies who finished off Akona Ndungane's solid work to add to last week's try Рthe conversion duly followed.

Steyn was then quick to punish some slack work from the Lions at the breakdown as they seemed out of sorts on home soil, particularly at line-out time as the sizeable Bakkies Botha got to work. They needed a huge improvement to get on the board as the rain continued to fall.

With a quarter of the game gone, the hosts finally began to settle as both possession and territory stakes swung their way for a short period. That was until the conditions played their inevitable part again as a ball from Jano Vermaak slipped through a team-mate's hands with Bryan Habana subsequently chasing down the loose ball, leading to another three points which stretched matters to 0-13.

The above-mentioned poor line-out continued to hurt the Lions though, as the growing pressure on Willie Wepener forced him to delay his throw in a promising position – would they ever get going?

It would have to be from a further three points down as the Bulls made them pay for more indiscipline moments before the break. When there was a rare sign of promise post Steyn's effort, the Lions strangely pushed a penalty into the corner when the set piece was so obviously struggling.

After both sides had dried off slightly, the turnaround saw yet more clever work from Kirchner, if with a slight sense of déjà vu, as he drilled another perfect kick to the Lions corner.

But their early territory was not to last as a superb counter-attack that involved Jaque Fourie and Henno Mentz ended with the former being dragged down 25 metres from the as yet untouched whitewash. There was some consolation for both team and Pretorius though as the experienced fly-half landed three record-breaking points to move above Louis Koen and close the scores to 3-16 on 52 minutes.

Was there to be a fightback? A man advantage would help their charge as Louis Ludik's eagerness to begin one saw him taken out by Wynand Olivier, with the Bulls man shown a yellow card for what was a very soft late challenge.

Whether it was referee Phillip Bosch or the Bulls struggling to find the momentum that had served them so well in the opening 40 minutes, but the visitors were on the back foot in Johannesburg with two converted tries the difference. The Lions were most definitely lifted as Ashwin Willemse followed up Wepener's light-footed skip down the right touchline..a crowd-lifting sight if ever there was one.

The closing stages were dominated by the hosts as more penalties followed – one of which was converted – before Rose made his arrival onto the Ellis Park turf as the last dice were thrown.

Mentz continued to be the leading threat as an overlap down in their own territory saw the busy wing put his foot to the floor and chip with the Bulls hoping their ten-point advantage would see them home on their short road-trip. Ten quickly became seven though as Rose was a thorn in the Bulls' side by sending a fine long-range penalty attempt over with eight minutes on the clock.

However, the big comeback was not to be as Rose's sin-binning for a 'dangerous tackle' took the wind out of the spirited Lions' effort.

Man of the match: Despite being on the losing side, winger MJ Mentz was a constant threat to the Bulls defence when in possession. Mention also for opposing full-back Zane Kirchner who performed solidly for the visitors.

The scorers:

For Lions:
Pen: Pretorius 2

For Bulls:
Con: Steyn
Pen: Steyn 3

Yellow card: Wynand Olivier (Bulls) – late tackle on 54 minutes, Earl Rose (Lions) – dangerous tackle on 74 minutes

Lions: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Ashwin Willemse, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Doppies le Grange, 11 Henno Mentz, 10 Andre Pretorius, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Ernst Joubert, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Gerhard Mostert, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 Lawrence Sephaka/Gert Muller, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Lawrence Sephaka.
Replacements: 16 Hans van Dyk, 17 Gert Muller/JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Todd Clever, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Earl Rose, 22 Jannie Boshoff.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez (c), 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Derick Kuün, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 JP Nel.

Referee: Phillip Bosch (South Africa)
Touch judges: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Sindile Mayende (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)