The Vodacom Bulls did the Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks a massive favour by stopping the Jaguares’ seven-game winning streak run with a 43-34 victory in their Vodacom Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The Bulls came from 19-0 down after 20 minutes to storm back and outscore their opposition by six tries to five in a high-scoring extravaganza on a cold Pretoria afternoon.
The win was a massive favour for the Lions, who stay on the top of the South African conference with just one round left in the competition, with the Jaguares blowing their chance of going top with a victory.
It also opened the door for the Sharks, who will be automatically through if the Melbourne Rebels lose next weekend, while they simply have to win the showdown with the Jaguares if they are to secure their spot in the playoff rounds.
The Jaguares’ seven-game winning streak was snapped by the Bulls and showed that while the team have grown exceptionally under coach Mario Ledesma, they still need to win away from home — and cchieving that in the playoff rounds will be extremely difficult.
For the Bulls the way they came back after their horror start should be commended. The likes of Warrick Gelant, Handre Pollard, RG Snyman, Jesse Kriel and Marco van Staden all stood out on the evening.
With the Loftus turf a lighter shade of green more reminiscent to rugby in the 80s, it was the Bulls who were shell-shocked early when the bright contrast of the Jaguares orange jerseys seemed to dominate every part of the early play, leaving them 19-0 up as they scored three quick tries without reply.
It was almost too easy as the Bulls’ defence disintegrated early on with Nicolas Sanchez dancing his way past Ruben van Heerden and then two others to score a perfect individual try to open the scoring in the third minute.
Javier Ortega Desio broke through three minutes later and put his captain Pablo Matera away to score a quick second try and then Gonzalo Bertranou scored his first try before 20 minutes was on the clock to leave the small Loftus crowd bemused at what had happened to their team.
But if there is one thing about this Bulls team, they don’t give up.
THE UPPER HAND
And it may have taken them a while to get the engine started, but when they did they roared back in style.
Warrick Gelant showed his class with a stunning right-hand break to send Jamba Ulengo roaring down the touchline, with the winger offering the ball to Johnny Kotze to get them on the board.
Their second try was even better as Gelant broke blind and some beautiful offloads from Hanro Liebenberg and Marco van Staden sent Embrose Papier over for a well-worked try.
And then unbelievably Jesse Kriel’s exceptional vision stole him a perfect intercept after the halftime hooter had gone to score under the posts, and suddenly the Bulls were ahead 21-19 at the break.
The Jaguares must have been kicking themselves as Pollard put the Bulls further ahead early in the second half with a penalty, but they hit back hard with Bertranou’s second try, created by a stunning break by the classy Emiliano Boffelli, who scythed his way through the defence to open the space for the try.
The Jaguares may have stolen the lead, but the Bulls pack were slowly getting the upper hand, and the rest of the team grew in confidence.
And it was Pollard who saw some extra space to take the outside break on attack and send the simplest of passes out wide for Ulengo to canter in for the try.
But the moment that gave the Bulls some breathing space came in the 60th minute when Marco van Staden collected the ball at the back of the lineout, shook off replacement scrumhalf Martin Landajo like a rag doll and busted his way upfield for a crucial score.
Television replays were scrutinised to the finest detail, but no fault could have been found as the Bulls for the first time looked a lot more comfortable than their opposition.
Ulengo, who earlier this season received miracle treatment from a clinic in Sweden to get him back on the field, cantered in for his second try to secure the win, and leave the Jaguares gasping for air.
Pablo Matera scored a late try for a possible chance at securing a crucial bonus point, but Boffelli’s conversion hit the posts, denying them even that.
It may not have been pretty, but the Bulls gave their fans something to be happy about after their poor performance in Singapore a week earlier.
And they did the Sharks and Lions a massive favour in the process.
Vodacom Bulls – tries: Johnny Kotze, Embrose Papier, Jesse Kriel, Jamba Ulengo (2), Marco van Staden. Conversions: Handre Pollard (5). Penalty: Pollard.
Jaguares – tries: Nicolas Sanchez, Pablo Matera (2), Gonzalo Bertranou (2). Conversions: Sanchez (3). Penalty: Emiliano Boffelli.
Report by Brenden Nel, SuperSport.com