A dismal first half put all their hard work this year at risk, but the Blue Bulls came storming back in the second half to beat the Eastern Province Kings 48-27 in their Currie Cup match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night to stay on track for a home semi-final.
The Bulls trailed 17-20 at half-time as the Eastern Cape side pondered a sensational victory in Pretoria, but two moments of dazzling brilliance by scrumhalf Francois Hougaard led to tries in the 56th and 66th minutes as the home side pulled clear for a comfortable bonus-point victory. With the Cape mourning her side’s 62-32 thrashing at the hands of the Lions at Ellis Park, the Bulls now have a four-point lead over Western Province heading into the final weekend of round-robin action.
The Bulls’ defence around the fringes was woefully absent in the first half as centre Tim Whitehead and flyhalf Elgar Watts scored tries after breaks by side-stepping wing Sylvian Mahuza and scrumhalf Enrico Acker respectively.
They came out a different side after coach Nollis Marais no doubt laid down the law in the half-time break, and they employed the rolling maul to good effect, with Lappies Labuschagne (twice), centre Dries Swanepoel and replacement flank Ruan Steenkamp all scoring from the drive, which also caused two Kings players to be yellow-carded – replacement front-rankers Edgar Marutlulle and Schalk Ferreira.
Hougaard’s own try was a scintillating 55m effort as he broke from the back of a retreating scrum and beat half-a-dozen defenders with blinding pace, while he broke blind from a lineout drive 10 minutes later, Steenkamp cracking on the pace before passing back to the scrumhalf, who juggled and stumbled but powered on to within a couple of metres from the line, substitute prop Werner Kruger scoring from the resultant ruck.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Lappies Labuschagne (2), Dries Swanepoel, Francois Hougaard, Werner Kruger, Ruan Steenkamp, Jacques du Plessis. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (4), Louis Fouche. Penalty: Schoeman.
EP Kings – Tries: Tim Whitehead, Elgar Watts, JP du Plessis. Conversions: Scott van Breda (3). Penalties: Van Breda (2).