Pretoria, Jan 6 (AFP/APP): Bulls scrum-half Embrose Papier scored the only try as they ground out a 22-15 victory over the Lions Wednesday to win the South African Currie Cup league phase.
All the other points at an empty Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria because of the coronavirus came from boots of Bulls pair Chris Smith and Morne Steyn and Lions’ Tiaan Swanepoel. Fly-half Smith slotted four penalties and a conversion before being replaced six minutes from time by veteran Steyn, who kicked a penalty. Young full-back Swanepoel, who can kick 60-metre penalties, managed five from varying distances and angles and looks a potential Springbok.
It was a tense match, spoilt by constant stoppages for reset scrums and 28 penalties, and the Bulls overcame a slow start to look the likelier winners throughout the second half. The league phase ends Sunday with the Bulls (39 points) assured of first place and Western Province (37), Sharks (35) and Lions (34) the other qualifiers for the knockout stage. In the January 16 semi-finals, the Bulls face the Lions in Pretoria again and Province will have home advantage over the Sharks in Cape Town.
If the Bulls reach the final as they pursue a first Currie Cup title since 2009, the title decider will be played at Loftus Versfeld on January 23.
Province were scheduled to host the Sharks this weekend in the final round of the league, but the match was cancelled and the points shared after a Covid-19 outbreak at the Sharks. “Our attitude was good as we fought back from nine points behind to lead at half-time,” said Bulls skipper and number eight Duane Vermeulen. “I expect more of the same when we meet the Lions in the semi-finals. Our victory margins against them recently have been eight and seven points so another close encounter seems likely.”
Lions skipper and fly-half Elton Jantjies said: “Given we had a tough match last Saturday, I thought the physical effort from the team was magnificent.”
The difference between the teams was the Papier try, the first score of the second half after the Bulls led 12-9 at half-time having trailed by nine points. Taking a pass from veteran Springbok Vermeulen, he held off stronger and taller Lions centre Dan Kriel to score. A couple of Swanepoel penalties narrowed the deficit to four points with 13 minutes left before Steyn completed the scoring off a close-range penalty.
The Lions forced three lineouts five metres from the Bulls tryline in additional time as they sought the converted try that would have earned a draw. But the Johannesburg side surrendered possession from the third lineout and Steyn calmly kicked the ball into touch to end a match in which the Lions secured a bonus point.
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