The Lions Cubs found themselves on the back foot early in the match as silly mistakes, ill-discipline and pressure under the high ball resulted in the Bulls taking control of the encounter.
JOHANNESBURG – A brilliant final, ebbing and flowing but ultimately swaying into the favour of defending champions the Blue Bulls Under-21, closed out the SA Under-21 Provincial Championship on Friday afternoon as the Pretoria young guns outscored the Lions Under-21 seven tries to five.
The Lions Cubs found themselves on the back foot early in the match as silly mistakes, ill-discipline and pressure under the high ball resulted in the Bulls taking control of the encounter. The team in blue drew first blood as early as the third minute with fullback Richard Kriel popping over a penalty after an off-side call in front of the posts.
The Bulls kicking game was paying dividends, taking advantage of the Lions early match jitters, putting the white and red hooped Cubs under pressure with well-weighted kicks, while winning possession back.
A solid line-out, the result of a penalty won by one such up-and-under, saw the Bulls shift the ball from end-to-end in the Lions 22, with their big winger Stravino Jacobs crashing over the tryline to score the first try of the match in the eighth minute. The Bulls came desperately close to extending their 10-0 lead, but a penalty for obstruction saved the Lions 5m from their tryline moments later.
The Bulls were bossing the first 10 minutes but the Cubs were finding their feet by sharpening up with ball-in-hand and winning the odd breakdown. A brilliant flat pass by flyhalf Marc Morrison in the Bulls half, and a lovely line from Sibusiso Sangweni cut the Bulls defence in half, the flank opening up the Lions’ account on the scoreboard to shift the momentum. A conversion followed by Monument Old Boy Luke Russouw and the Lions were up and running 10-7.
The Lions were at it again seconds later from the resultant restart when left winger Ngia Selengbe bewitched the Bulls defence, dancing his way towards the opposition 22. With their forwards arriving, quick ball resulted as Cal Smid scored the try that took his team into a 14-10 lead.
The Lions forwards were now dominating, especially in the maul, and in the 27th minute drove the Bulls apart, Smid once again crashing over the Bulls whitewash. The Cubs then blew two chances in the opposition’s 22, as the Bulls pilfered the breakdown – a development which would mar the Lions attack from hereon.
And while the Lions were coughing up chances, the Bulls took theirs when scrumhalf Bernard van der Linde sniped over the line to end the first half trailing their opposition 19-17 ahead.
The second half started with the same verve as the first, the Lions extending their lead after right-wing Prince Nkabinde collected a lost ball off of a Bulls ruck to sprint down the touchline and score in the corner.
But the Bulls would not be undone, and the aforementioned turnovers at the breakdown were now costing the Lions. Another try by Jacobs and replacement Keagan Johannes, the latter winning a footrace after a chip-kick by Bulls scrumhalf Van der Linde, swung the scoreboard in favour of the Bulls 29-26. Another turnover then saw the Bulls collect a cross-field kick with hooker Jaco Uys dotting down between the poles to open up a nine-point lead.
The Lions were now under pressure but held their composure to pull back a try, their forwards taking matters into their own hands by, at first mauling within meters of the Bulls’ tryline, winning a penalty, and then short shifting the ball to replacement hooker Darnell Osawagu, who drove over the line to close the gap 36-33.
Even so, the Bulls would have the final say – a devastating tackle in the midfield by Bulls centre Jay-Cee Nell in the closing moments of the game saw the Cubs fumble the ball and replacement Dawid Kellerman diving over the far corner to seal the game.
The Bulls then added the final nail in the coffin scoring their seventh and final try in the 79th minute to defend their title and claim an emphatic 48-33 victory.
Blue Bulls Under-21 (17) 48
Golden Lions Under-21 (19) 33