The Northern Bulls celebrated their 75th birthday in fitting fashion with a hard-fought 26-20 win over fellow South Africans the Central Cheetahs on Saturday in a full-blooded Super 15 rugby union clash.
The match, played before a 35,000-strong crowd at Loftus Versfeld, took a decisive turn early in the second half when the Bulls scored 10 points in four minutes to turn a 9-6 half-time deficit into a seven-point lead.
A gallant Cheetahs’ side came within two points just seven minutes from time when impressive prop Trevor Nyakane crashed over for a try, but the Bulls responded by scoring one of their own.
Replacement forward Callie Visagie got the touchdown after a number of forward surges and flyhalf Morne Steyn converted to finish with a 16-point tally.
The Cheethas got a losing bonus point after the hooter sounded when substitute flyhalf Francois Brummer kicked a penalty. That point squeezed the Cheetahs into the top six because they have won more matches than the Bulls and the Wellington Hurricanes, who suffered a 28-6 loss to Auckland Blues.
Victory for the Bulls confirmed their dominance over the Cheetahs, having won the nine previous Super Rugby meetings, and it ended a record five-match winning run by the visitors in the southern hemisphere championship.
Bulls discard Burton Francis kicked three first-half penalty goals for the Cheetahs and Steyn two for the Bulls, who must have been shocked to find themselves trailing at the break after dominating possession and territory.
Coach Frans Ludeke told the Bulls to be more patient and clinical in the second half, and they were soon in front as scrumhalf Jano Vermaak eluded several tackles to dart over for a try and Steyn converted.
Steyn kicked a penalty and added another after Francis had done likewise for the Cheetahs to leave the Bulls 19-12 ahead 55 minutes into a physical battle that the crowd was relishing.
The Cheetahs applied constant pressure, but were often forced to run across the pitch until Nyakane bulldozed over only for Francis to miss a difficult conversion equalizer with six minutes left.
STORMERS 22, SHARKS 15
In Cape Town, a Juan de Jongh try made the difference as the Western Stormers beat the Coastal Sharks on Saturday.
Springbok center De Jongh crossed the line on 35 minutes at Newlands to help the home team build a 16-6 half-time lead that they successfully defended under intense second-half pressure.
The Sharks’ only consolation was a stoppage-time penalty goal from flyhalf Patrick Lambie that secured a losing bonus point.
The Stormers had the better of the scrum battle, were superior in the loose exchanges and also stole several line-outs for a third win in seven outings this season.
The Sharks remain third overall and top of the South African conference despite a second loss in seven matches.
They had try-scoring chances, but selfish fullback Francois Steyn robbed them of a late first-half chance before Stormers replacement hooker Martin Bezuidenhout came to the rescue after leftwing Sean Robinson broke clear.
Another key factor for the Stormers was the flawless goal-kicking of fullback Joe Pietersen, who kicked five penalty goals and a conversion for a 100 percent record.
Although not at his best in general play, Lambie was almost as successful as Pietersen when kicking at goal, slotting five of six penalty attempts and the one he missed was an ambitious effort from the halfway line.
Pietersen kicked three penalties to give Stormers a nine-point advantage before Lambie cut the deficit only for Stormers to go 13 points clear when De Jongh dived over.
Flank Michael Rhodes won a line-out at the tail and his burst forward set in motion a handling move that ended with a clever off-load from captain and center Jean de Villiers for De Jongh to score.
A second Lambie penalty left 10 points between the teams at the break and the game was won and lost during the first 20 minutes of the second half.
Pietersen kicked two penalties and Lambie three during the half to give the Stormers a crucial win in their bid to make the play-offs.
FORCE 16, CRUSADERS 14
In Perth, Australia, former Wallaby Sam Norton-Knight scored the Western Force’s only try for a 16-8 half-time lead before the home side held on for a narrow win on Saturday over the Crusaders.
With the Force leading seven-time champions Crusaders with five minutes remaining, Crusaders center Ryan Crotty tackled one of the fans who ran onto the ground.
Flyhalf Jayden Hayward kicked a conversion and three penalties to provide the bulk of the points for the Force, while Luke Romano scored the Crusaders’ only try and Tyler Bleyendaal added three penalties.