Cornal Hendricks scores a try against the Lions.
Gordon Arons/Gallo Pictures
- The Bulls got their United Rugby Championship campaign off to a good start when they defeated the Lions 31-15 at Ellis Park.
- The Pretoria team was the better side and made fewer mistakes on a hot Johannesburg afternoon.
- The Lions faltered again in a South African derby and have plenty to think about before their European trip.
At Ellis Park
It was a case of a different season, but the same problems for the Lions when they were beaten 31-15 by the Bulls in their United Rugby Championship (URC) opener at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Lions could be excused for the game being a season starter, but showing the same kind of stage fright that paralyzed them in South African derbies.
SUMMARY | URC – Lions v Bulls
The Bulls, showing less ring rust, did the right things at the right times to keep the Lions comfortably at bay.
The Bulls, last season’s losing finalists, have the comfort of a home game against Edinburgh, while the Lions have an outing with Ospreys from Wales.
The Bulls earned their 15-8 halftime lead as it was earned by an unusually timid rugby from the hosts.
They had the Bulls running towards them from the first whistle and when Marcell Coetzee made his way in the fourth minute, the Lions were shocked.
Jordan Hendrikse’s ninth-minute penalty relieved the pressure somewhat, but the Bulls’ combination of structured and broken rugby left the Lions’ defense guessing.
This was evident in the 23 minute try by Cornal Hendricks which initially started from the Bulls try-line, from where it was aided by a mindless run without support from Lions fullback Andries Coetzee.
The Bull skillfully used the width of the field to put the Lions’ defenses in awkward positions and by the time Hendricks crossed into the corner there were tight attackers manning the wide channels.
With Chris Smith’s 20th-minute penalty added to the scoring equation, the Bulls led 15-3 and the Lions had to fire another shot in anger.
The Lions finally got their act together, scoring in the 34th minute via Francke Horn from a rolling maul that the Lions barely used in the first half.
They could have been and could have been level at halftime, but Hendrikse missed the conversion and a 39th-minute penalty.
The Lions then messed up a 40-minute rolling maul that would have allowed them to breathe easier at halftime.
They started the better of the two in the second stanza as Marius Louw waltzed over untouched in the 44th minute, but the Bulls pulled away four minutes later with a penalty from Smith.
The game then sank into a quagmire of broken play, tactical farces and error handling, as it looked like a season opening game at the time.
The Bulls, who were the better coached side, made fewer mistakes and it showed on the scoreboard.
Smith, disappointed that he overcooked a penalty touch finder, drilled a 60-minute penalty that gave the Bulls a 21-15 buffer.
The Lions, who had bigger cobwebs at the start of the season than the Bulls, again showed their lack of nous in the 63rd minute when they messed up another rolling maul.
Referee AJ Jacobs could and should have penalized the Bulls for offside, but instead he gave the Lions a beating for not letting go of the ruck.
The Bulls used this escape card to march onto the pitch and get a penalty that Smith knocked over in the 65th minute to give the visitors a nine point lead.
The game’s error-ridden nature continued into the final 10 minutes as both sides traded errors like toys at a flea market.
However, the Lions were not allowed to play rugby in the Bulls’ half, leaving them at the mercy of Jacobs’ whistle and a dash of accuracy the Bulls could muster.
Accuracy didn’t come, but as the Bulls were slicker on the lineout and stronger in the scrums, they were better rewarded with Jan-Hendrik Wessels’ 73rd minute try from a rolling maul that ended the game as a match.
The Lions tried to keep busy to save the day, but their inaccuracy, a hallmark of their failures last season, crept in and seriously hindered them.
Indeed, all they won was a late brawl common to any SA derby.
Lions: (8) 15
Tries: Francke Horn, Marius Louw
Conversion: Jordan Hendrikse
Bulls: (15) 31
Tries: Marcell Coetzee, Cornal Hendricks, Jan-Hendrik Wessels
Conversions: Chris Smith, Morne Steyn
Punishments: Smith (4)