The Lions enjoyed 22 points from the boot of flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff as they beat the Bulls 32-21 (half-time 9-6) in their SuperRugby match at Ellis Park on Saturday and all but eliminated them from playoffs contention.
Boshoff kicked two conversions and four penalties in a faultless goal-kicking display and also added two impressive drop goals.
The Lions, playing with tremendous energy considering they have just flown back from Australia, produced some top-class counter-attacking rugby as they capitalised on a host of Bulls mistakes.
They also scrambled superbly in defence and a Bulls side missing the composure brought by the rested Victor Matfield looked rattled throughout the game.
The Lions showed their character from the outset as they recovered the ball from a lost lineout in the second minute and Boshoff claimed his first drop goal (3-0).
While the Lions struggled in the lineouts, they gave the Bulls a working over in the scrums and the visitors were penalised in that set-piece in the fifth minute, allowing Boshoff to slot a penalty (6-0).
Bulls flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter missed a penalty in the seventh minute and was then penalised for not releasing in the tackle, Boshoff stretching the Lions’ lead to 9-0.
The Bulls fought their way back into the match, however, their big ball-runners making inroads, and two Potgieter penalties narrowed the gap to 6-9 at the break.
The Bulls replaced loosehead prop Dean Greyling in the first scrum of the second half, bringing on Morne Mellet, and immediately won a penalty, allowing Potgieter to level the scores in the 45th minute.
But the Lions regained their inspiration straight afterwards as Bulls lock Grant Hattingh failed to claim the kickoff in a key moment. The ball bounced into eighthman Warren Whiteley’s hands and the Lions captain quickly fed centre Alwyn Hollenbach, who went blind before jinking inside to score a fine try.
Boshoff added the conversion (16-9) and the Lions continued to separate themselves from their error-strewn opponents as the deadeye flyhalf kicked another drop goal and a penalty before flank Warwick Tecklenburg scored a try after a thrilling break by replacement Elton Jantjies. He sent Stokkies Hanekom, who had a dream game, haring towards the line with a brilliant flip inside, but the outside centre was stopped just short of the line before popping the ball up for Tecklenburg to score.
There was some cheer for the flat Bulls as replacement centre William Small-Smith and flank Jacques du Plessis scored late tries, but Boshoff provided the fairytale ending for the Lions with an 80th-minute penalty after a scrum infringement.
While the Lions have climbed off the bottom of the log with the victory, the Bulls are now in ninth place with 33 points and locked in a dire struggle with the Highlanders (38), Hurricanes (37), Western Force (36) and Chiefs (35) for a place in the top six and progression to the playoffs.
Lions – Tries: Alwyn Hollenbach, Warwick Tecklenburg. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (2). Penalties: Boshoff (4). Drop goals: Boshoff (2).
Bulls – Tries: William Small-Smith, Jacques du Plessis. Conversion: Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Penalties: Potgieter (3).