The Emirates Lions hammered the Vodacom Bulls 56-20 in their SuperRugby derby at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday to ensure that they will return to action after the international break in pole position for the playoffs and with their confidence sky-high.
It was a sensational display by the Lions and it was their sheer intensity, pace, power and vision that blew the Bulls away, the visitors running in seven tries in delivering the sort of hiding that has rarely been inflicted on the home side at their Pretoria fortress.
The Bulls knew from the start that they were going to be in for a tough evening as the Lions earned a penalty from the kickoff, the home side not releasing in the tackle and Marnitz Boshoff slotting the kick. That was not the only time the Bulls erred at the breakdown.
Another Boshoff penalty stretched the lead to 6-0 and the opening try came in the 19th minute. The Lions were put on attack by scrumhalf Faf de Klerk’s searing break and the power of inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg then carried him over for the try, although the Bulls pleaded in vain for the visitors to be penalised for obstruction as there was crossing in the midfield.
The Bulls struck back from the kickoff though when the Lions misjudged the flight of the ball, which then bounced over the head of fullback Sylvan Mahuza, who had come rushing up to cover. Outside centre Jesse Kriel gathered the ball and stormed over for the try to cut the deficit to 5-13.
The Lions scrum then made their presence felt in the 27th minute, a big shove seeing the ball bounce out – was it out the tunnel or through the legs? – into De Klerk’s hands and the deserved Man of the Match launched a rapid counter-attack, finished by the pace and power of outside centre Lionel Mapoe, who would not look out of place in the New Zealand backline.
The Bulls, to their credit, did not harp on about all the 50/50 decisions that went against them, but it would have been churlish considering how comprehensively they were outplayed.
The Bulls did pull the gap back to 8-18 with a Francois Brummer penalty, but the Lions were firmly in charge at the break as another try took them out to 25-8.
De Klerk may have been the director of all the attacking brilliance, but this try saw the fabulous pack take control. Hooker Malcolm Marx, who was immense, ripped the ball off the Bulls to set up a series of drives and the home side eventually ran out of defenders, allowing powerhouse tighthead prop Julian Redelinghuys to stroll over the line.
The Bulls defence is one of the best in the competition – before the match they had missed the least tackles – but the Lions continued to cut them open with astonishing ease, thanks to the high tempo with which they moved the ball, and their wonderful vision and skills.
Flank Warwick Tecklenburg is one of the unsung heroes of the Lions and his inside ball to Boshoff saw the flyhalf break clear, earning a penalty for a high tackle, which he slotted to ensure the visitors continued the momentum in the second half.
De Klerk showed again just how dangerous he is with ball-in-hand in the 54th minute when he took a quick tap-penalty and was away in the blink of an eye; he had Jaco Kriel inside him and the brilliant flanker is one of the paciest loose forwards around, roaring over the line for the Lions’ fourth try.
The Bulls were 33-8 down but they did restore some pride with their second try, protecting the ball long enough to get a driving maul going, skipper Adriaan Strauss dotting down.
But there was little respite from the dazzling onslaught from the Lions: wing Courtnall Skosan ran a great line and received the scoring pass from captain Warren Whiteley, in a moment of superb play that showcased the eighthman’s wonderful appreciation of space and time.
Boshoff added his fourth conversion to put the Lions 42-13 up and things got worse for the Bulls when replacement flyhalf Tian Schoeman received a yellow card from referee Craig Joubert for a ruck offence after a team warning.
Shortly thereafter, the scrum once again got their shove on and the nefarious De Klerk was able to dart over for a well-deserved try of his own. Boshoff converted to put the Lions on the brink of the half-century mark and the hell was not over yet for the Bulls as a magnificent breakout by the Lions saw Skosan put clear on a switch move. He showed the pace that has seen him rightly rewarded with an SA A place, and he passed outside to Janse van Rensburg, who showed that he has speed to go with his power as he stormed over for the try.
Replacement flank Deon Stegmann scored under the posts for the Bulls in the final minute, but it was scant consolation for a side that were nowhere near their best and played off the park as a result.
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Adriaan Strauss, Deon Stegmann. Conversion: Tian Schoeman. Penalty: Francois Brummer.
Emirates Lions – Tries: Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2), Lionel Mapoe, Julian Redelinghuys, Jaco Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Faf de Klerk. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (6). Penalties: Boshoff (3).