Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell’s introduction to Currie Cup rugby as head coach of the Bulls could not have been more dramatic as his team scraped home 51-45 against Griquas in a ding-dong battle in Kimberley on Saturday.
After nearly 10 minutes of sparring, the Bulls opened the scoring in spectacular fashion when a series of movements out wide saw supporting lock Abgongile Nontkontwana gathering to score.
The conversion was missed and the home side struck back almost immediately, when the forwards surged at the line before spreading the ball out wide where wing Edreries Arendse was unmarked for an easy canter to the line.
The Bulls countered with a wonderful solo break by Warrick Gelant that culminated with scrumhalf Piet van Zyl diving over a ruck on the line and the conversion made it 12-7.
Griquas again hit back and were unlucky to not score, but took the points on offer from a penalty through Clinton Swarts, to make it 12-10 to the visitors, and then from the kick-off, wing Enver Brandt intercepted a Bulls backline movement to score on debut, and the conversion made it 17-12.
The home side were on a roll and in the 23rd minute Swarts kicked a penalty to push the score out to 20-12.
In the 30th minute centre Swarts missed a long-range penalty and the Bulls made that count when a counter-attack from deep in their 22 ended up with lock Jaco Visagie scoring a fine team try. The Bulls’ conversion by Thinus de Beer made it 20-19 to the home team.
The Bulls took the lead when wing Duncan Matthews scored on the stroke of half-time after another good team build-up.
The home side were first to score after half-time when Swarts kicked a good penalty to make it 23-26, moments later Christiaan Meyer intercepted on his own 22 to scamper home to give his side the lead, but Swarts missed the conversion. Griquas led 28-26.
In the 50th minute flyhalf De Beer kicked his fourth penalty to nudge his side 29-28 in front, but two minutes later Swarts was on target with a penalty to regain the lead for his side in what was proving to be a tight battle.
The Bulls moved in front again when Gelant kicked a penalty to make it 32-31, and as the game hit the three-quarter mark the fullback was on the score sheet again when he was on the end of a pass after a relentless team build-up to make it 37-31.
From the kick-off, the Bulls rampaged onto the attack with Andre Warner scoring after a superb team try. At 44-31 the Bulls were stretching away, but the home side did not give up and when No 8 Jonathan Janse van Rensburg barged over, it was game on, with George Whitehead kicking the conversion to make it 44-38.
There was big drama when Bulls centre Burger Odendaal seemed to have scored in the corner, but the TMO disallowed the score. A minute later Brandt scored a magnificent solo try after a sprint down the touchline, converted by Whitehead, and the home side were one point ahead with 10 minutes to go at 45-44.
But the Bulls saved the best for last when a remarkable team phase play saw the ball stretched wide to Travis Ismaie who barged over, converted by De Beer for a 51-45 lead.
There would be no further change in score as the Bulls were relieved to claim a hard-fought win.
Scorers: Griquas 45 (20): Tries: Edreries Arendse, Enver Brandt (2), Christiaan Meyer, Jonathan Janse van Rensburg,. Conversions: Andre Swarts , George Whitehead (2). Penalies: Andre Swarts (5) Bulls 51 (26): Tries: Abgongile Nontkontwana, Piet van Zyl, Jaco Visagie, Duncan Matthews, Warrick Gelant, Andre Warner (2). Conversions: Thinus de Beer (4), Gelant. Penalties: De Beer, Warrick Gelant. – African News Agency (ANA)