The Vodacom Blue Bulls moved into the top two of the Currie Cup on Friday night, playing some terrific rugby in a 57-20 win over Griquas at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday night.
With the Free State Cheetahs already four points clear with a game in hand, and the Sharks eyeing a bonus point win over the Eastern Province Kings on Saturday to join the Bulls on 25 points, the race for the second home semi-final now seems to be a two-horse race between the teams from Pretoria and Durban.
The Bulls were actually 10-0 down inside the first 10 minutes as they twice lost the ball inside the Griquas 22, allowing the visitors to counter-attack to good effect.
In the sixth minute, a strong run by centre Dries Swanepoel had put the Bulls on attack, but lock RG Snyman’s pass to scrumhalf Piet van Zyl then went astray and outside centre Jonathan Francke pounced, bursting clear before passing to flyhalf Elgar Watts, who kicked long for wing Alshaun Bock to show his considerable pace and chase down the ball for the opening try.
Inside centre Clinton Swart converted and then kicked a penalty from the halfway line after the Bulls had won a box-kick but been counter-rucked off the ball on the Griquas’ 22. The visitors were awarded a penalty and from the lineout they set up, the Bulls backline strayed offsides.
The Bulls stuck to their plan of mauls and box-kicks in setting up their first try, flank Nic de Jager bustling over in the 16th minute, flyhalf Tian Schoeman converting to cut the gap to 7-10.
But the Bulls then showed in the third quarter that they can playing different types of rugby to tremendous effect.
Their second try was a classic training ground move as hooker Jaco Visagie wrapped around at the lineout to get the ball from lock Marvin Orie, showing good pace as he then passed to Schoeman, whose inside ball went to wing Jamba Ulengo, screaming through for a dazzling try under the poles, the flyhalf’s conversion putting the Bulls four points ahead.
The lineout was a tremendous attacking base for the Bulls and, in the 25th minute, they stole a Griquas throw, Van Zyl running from his own 22 to the opposition 22, before Schoeman quickly passed the ball wide, De Jager getting over the advantage line and Snyman then bulldozing his way over for the try.
The boots of Swart and Schoeman then added penalties with the Bulls going into halftime with a 24-13 lead and obviously in the ascendancy.
The breakdown work of the Bulls was also excellent and the combined efforts of Roelof Smit and De Jager fighting for the ball won a turnover inside the first minute of the second half, Swanepoel having a dart and then providing a lovely offload for Van Zyl to race clear and score from 40 metres out.
Lock Snyman is undoubtedly one of the brightest talents in the country, but the over-exuberance of the giant 21-year-old was then shown as he made a dangerous cleanout, with a forearm to the face of Francke, which led to fullback Ulrich Beyers’ try being disallowed and a yellow card being given for his troubles.
But the Bulls scrum was ultra-efficient on the night, consistently dominating Griquas, and they won a free kick eight minutes later, allowing Beyers to make up for his earlier vile misfortune as he waltzed through a huge gap in midfield to claim his first try since his return to Pretoria.
Five minutes later, Orie gobbled up a turnover to put the Bulls on attack and, from a penalty, Van Zyl took a quick tap and beat several defenders as he jinked his way over the tryline, Schoeman’s conversion opening a yawning 43-13 gap on Griquas.
A try to replacement lock Wandile Putuma, set free by substitute scrumhalf Renier Botha’s quick tap-and-go, was a rare ray of light for Griquas, but the Bulls were focused on more tries and they dotted down two more times before the end of the game.
Snyman cut through the defences like a death-ray on a brilliant 70-metre run, setting up a five-metre scrum for the Bulls. Another massive shove by the Bulls pack led referee Quinton Immelman, who had a good game himself, to award a penalty try. Schoeman converted and the Bulls had brought up a half-century.
Replacement fullback Bjorn Basson then scored a fine try on the final hooter, after the Bulls forwards had won a turnover, the Springbok brushing aside a couple of defenders in a strong finish. Schoeman, a composed director of affairs for the Bulls, added the conversion to finish with a record of eight from 10 kicks at goal and seal a top-class win for the home side.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Tries: Nic de Jager, Jamba Ulengo, RG Snyman, Piet van Zyl (2), Ulrich Beyers, Penalty try, Bjorn Basson. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (7). Penalty: Schoeman.
Griquas – Tries: Alshaun Bock, Wandile Putuma. Conversions: Clinton Swart (2). Penalties: Swart (2).