Despite having to play for 10 minutes with 13 men, the Bulls beat the Lions 31-17 in a pulsating Super 14 match in Pretoria on Friday.
The home side lost Springbok hard man Bakkies Botha to the sin-bin, and fullback Zane Kirchner to a red card, in the first period, but still had too much fire-power to overcome the Lions.
The Bulls led 25-5 at the half-time break.
While the defending champions only managed two first-half tries to the Lions’ three, they built their victory around the accurate kicking boot of flyhalf Derick Hougaard, who put over six penalties and a drop-goal.
The Bulls got off to a solid start with their forwards making good inroads into Lions territory but had little to show for their domination of territory and possession early on.
A number of decent try-scoring chances went awry after some shoddy handling, but the pressure they exerted on their Gauteng neighbours finally started to tell, and it wasn’t long before the defending champions got into their stride.
Hougaard got his team on the scoreboard with two penalties on the quarter-hour mark and then moments later it was the turn of Springbok wing Akona Ndungane to put his side further ahead.
The winger went over on the right after fellow Bok winger Bryan Habana had secured the ball from an up-and-under that the Lions had allowed to bounce.
The recycled ball was quickly moved down the line, allowing Ndungane to run in untouched.
Hougaard then added a trademark drop-goal and a further three-pointer for a comfortable 17-0 advantage, but the loss of Botha to the sin-bin and the red-carding of Kirchner for a dangerous tackle allowed the Lions to at least score a try, through wing Dusty Noble.
The home side, though, extended their lead minutes before the interval when Hougaard slotted his fourth penalty of the evening before Ndungane ran in his second try.
Turning around 25-5 up, the Bulls started the second period as fiercely as they ended the first, but somewhat against the run of the play it was the Lions who made the running in the final 40 minutes.
First scrumhalf Jano Vermaak caught the Bulls defenders off guard as he ran in after taking a quick-tap penalty, and then minutes later it was the turn of winger Rayno Benjamin to dot down after a strong break in midfield by centre Jaco Pretorius.
The Bulls though, who’d done the hard work in the opening period, defended manfully in the final stages of the contest and even won two penalties, which Hougaard slotted, to help his side to a comfortable 31-17 victory.
The defending champions now head to Australasia to face the Queensland Reds, while the Lions are up against their fellow countrymen, the unbeaten Sharks. — Sapa-AFP