Mobile lock Grant Hattingh, who produced a top-class performance in open play and the lineouts, sealed a second win this season for the Bulls with his 79th-minute try off a rolling maul, but the home side had to see off a ferocious comeback from the Lions.
A burst of two tries in five minutes between the 69th and 74th minutes saw the Lions substantially reduce a commanding 29-12 lead for the Bulls, wing Ruan Combrinck’s two conversions closing the gap to 26-29 and giving him a perfect record of six from six at goal.
But the Bulls, with their front row pulling out of the set-piece, were then awarded a controversial scrum penalty, which they kicked into the corner and set up the rolling maul from which Hattingh scored.
The Bulls controlled proceedings for the opening hour, their clinical kicking game keeping the Lions pegged back in their own territory and a robust defensive performance ensuring that the visitors were not able to break the shackles when they tried to run from their own half.
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen was also strict with the whistle and regularly penalised the players, leading to Combrinck and Bulls flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter exchanging penalties in the first quarter.
The Bulls were leading 9-6 in the 23rd minute when Hattingh pounced on a misunderstanding between Lions scrumhalf Ross Cronje and his backline that led to a loose ball on the ground. The rangy lock burst clear and, after sending the ball wide and then back infield, the Bulls had a ruck in the shadow of the Lions’ posts. Potgieter threw a flat pass to fullback Ulrich Beyers, who went through one tackle and scored.
Potgieter converted and that was followed by one more penalty to the Bulls and two more to the Lions as the home side went into the break 19-12 up.
That became a 29-12 lead in the 51st minute as Potgieter kicked a 40m scrum penalty and centre Burger Odendaal scored the Bulls’ second try as he gathered a grubber from Potgieter that rebounded off the rushing Lions defence in front of their poles.
The Lions’ task looked even more hopeless when tighthead prop Ruan Dreyer was yellow-carded for collapsing a Bulls maul – the fourth time the visitors had infringed in that way – but Johan Ackermann’s team were inspired by the arrival on the field of Sevens Springboks Kwagga Smith and Mark Richards.
Smith, playing eighthman, showed a nose for the line when he slithered over in the 69th minute and, five minutes later, his foray from the base of a scrum led to replacement lock Martin Muller galloping over for the Lions’ second try.
The Bulls had somehow lost the spring in their steps, but were fortunate to win a scrum penalty while on the retreat, which allowed them to claim the match-winning try and condemn the Lions to just their second defeat in five matches. That has allowed the Pumas to leap into second place on the log, five points behind Western Province.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Ulrich Beyers, Burger Odendaal, Grant Hattingh. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3). Penalties: Potgieter (5).
Lions – Tries: Kwagga Smith, Martin Muller. Conversions: Ruan Combrinck (2). Penalties: Combrinck (4).