The Lions produced a upbeat performance in the Jukskei derby to beat a unstructured Blue Bulls team 20-13 (halftime 10-0) in their Currie Cup Premier Division match played at Coke Park on Saturday.
The home side were full value for their win, scoring 17 unanswered points in the first hour thanks to industrious work up front, clinical finishing by the backs, and the deadly kicking boot of flyhalf Herkie Kruger.
They might have picked up their fourth victory from eight starts, but the Lions remain in sixth position on the Currie Cup table, tied with the Free State Cheetahs on 20 points but with an inferior points difference.
Ironically, the Bulls began the weekend in fourth place but despite suffering their third defeat – and a comprehensive one at that – they actually climb up the ladder to third, thanks to a late bonus-point gained for finishing within seven points.
In truth, the scoreline flattered the Bulls, who were well beaten in all departments, with only a 79th-minute try from centre Jaco Pretorius and an injury-time penalty from replacement Francois Brummer creating the illusion that this was somehow a close affair.
The Lions opened their account in the 18th minute thanks to a penalty from the boot of Kruger, who delivered an assured display in the number ten jersey.
Despite dominating the set pieces and the breakdown, the healthy home crowd had to wait until three minutes before the break to see their team cross the whitewash – centre Alwyn Hollenbach finishing off a quick-tap penalty in fine style.
The try was started by a bulldozing charge by hooker Hans van Dyk, who fed a flying scrumhalf Jano Vermaak on the break. From a resultant breakdown penalty deep in Bulls territory, Vermaak took a quick tap kick and good hands from skipper Cobus Grobbelaar in particular saw Hollenbach dummy his way over for a try that made it 10-0 at the break.
Any thoughts that the Bulls would somehow shake off their lethargy in the changerooms were quashed within two minutes of the restart, when Vermaak was on hand to capitalise on a speculative chip ahead by flanker Franco van der Merwe, after the Bulls had somehow conspired to lose a regulation lineout take.
Kruger’s conversion made it 17-0 before his Bulls opposite number, Burton Francis, finally put his side on the board with a penalty after 57 minutes.
Kruger then kicked his second penalty with three minutes remaining to make it 20-3 before he and his teammates, perhaps understandably, took both feet off the pedal as they waited for the sands of time to run out – only had to watch on as the Bulls chipped 10 points off the deficit in next to no time.
It might not have been enough to win them the game, but the vital bonus point the Bulls gained could yet prove invaluable in the final shake-up for semi-final positions – and perhaps decide the all-important matter of home-ground advantage.
Lions 20 – Tries: Alwyn Hollenbach, Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Herkie Kruger (2). Penalties: Kruger (2).
Blue Bulls 13 – Try: Jaco Pretorius. Conversion: Burton Francis. Penalties: Francis, Francois Brummer.