Bulls halt Lions’ winning run in thriller

The Bulls have ended the five-match Super Rugby winning streak of fellow South Africans the Lions with a thrilling 35-33 bonus-point triumph.

A large crowd turned up for the Gauteng derby at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria on Saturday and they were rewarded with seven tries amid a feast of high-tempo running rugby.

Victory lifted the Bulls five places to second on the combined Southern Hemisphere standings, nine points behind the Wellington Hurricanes from New Zealand, and the Lions remained eighth and play-offs contenders.

It was a match of three phases with halfback Piet van Zyl scoring two early tries to help the Bulls build a 25-13 halftime advantage under the leadership of 37-year-old lock Victor Matfield.

The Johannesburg-based Lions roared back after the break and edged ahead 26-25 on 55 minutes when five-eighth Elton Jantjies converted a try from prop Jacques van Rooyen.

Regular Bulls skipper Pierre Spies then came off the bench to make a decisive contribution, taking a quick tap penalty and barging over the line surrounded by five Lions.

The leading Super 15 points scorer this season Handre Pollard converted from the touchline and added a penalty with four minutes left for a 35-26 lead.

But back came the indomitable Lions again to secure a losing bonus point via a try by flanker Jaco Kriel that Jantjies converted to close the scoring.

The Bulls, who whipped the Lions at home and away for five consecutive Super Rugby seasons until last year, showed the losers deep respect at a stoppage-time scrum they won.

Instead of seeking a converted try and depriving the Lions of a bonus point, the home side hurriedly booted the ball into touch rather than risk losing it and giving the visitors a chance to snatch victory.

“The atmosphere was fantastic, the game was fantastic, and the players and the crowd enjoyed every minute,” said Springbok legend Matfield.

“We did not get the early second half try that would have given us a good lead, but we came back brilliantly toward the end with Pierre (Spies) scoring an opportunistic try.”

Lions No.8 Warren Whiteley said: “What a spectacle. This was a fantastic game, won by the Bulls because they were slightly more clinical than us.

“I am physically and mentally drained and so proud of my teammates – we left everything out there on the pitch.”

The Lions host the Highlanders next Saturday while the Bulls have a bye before a four-match Australasia tour.

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