Storming Loftus

Fortress Loftus lost its invincibility as the Cell C Sharks scored a 28-20 bonus point win over the Blue Bulls four days after defeating the Griquas that now brings to three their run of wins in recent weeks.

Crucially, we denied the Blue Bulls any log points in a match that see-sawed for much of the two halves, before an incredible defensive effort was simply the difference as we attacked well, but defended heroically.  We have leapfrogged the Bulls into second place on the log.

After a strong initial build-up from the Cell C Sharks that couldn’t be closed out, a second bite at the cherry delivered the goods when S’bu Nkosi showed why he is such an exciting prospect as he turned on the afterburners and scythed through some poor defence to score in the opening three minutes of the game.  Jacques Vermeulen had a strong hand in the movement and he too is proving a valuable prospect.

With both teams scoring plenty of points lately, and John Mitchell having a part to play in developing the Blue Bulls’ attack, it was clear that both sides were going to embrace running rugby as they hammered away at each other.  With the Cell C Sharks having to defend against multi-phase pressure, their defence, so good for the opening 13 minutes, finally succumbed as the Bulls scored their first try, and together with the conversion, took a 7-5 lead.

But the Bulls messed up in receiving the subsequent kick-off and from the resulting scrum, a penalty was awarded. Garth April kicked to touch and our forwards drove the ball over the tryline, Franco Marais the man in possession.

The home side continued to look dangerous, but on conceding possession to us, they also lost their lock for tripping Tera Mtembu by lifting his leg and being sent to the sin bin for his efforts. Although the initial advantage came to nothing, a subsequent penalty near the halfway line was sent through the posts by April.

The Blue Bulls pulled back with a penalty of their own with two minutes to go before half-time as we held a slender 13-10 lead as the home side were restored to 15 men and that was how the first half ended.

The Blue Bulls enjoyed early possession in good areas in the second half but battled to make it count against some outstanding Cell C Sharks defence, and only the TMO could deny us a try from a great attacking position, but the ball had gone forward in the process of Mtembu scoring.

But there was no denying Lukhanyo Am following sustained pressure on attack as he read the defence perfectly and threaded his way through for our third try, converted by April to give us breathing space at 20-10 up with under half an hour of the match remaining.

Tony Jantjies reduced the deficit to a converted try with a penalty following a high tackle, but April cancelled it out with one of his own a few minutes later following a wonderful break from substitute scrumhalf Cameron Wright who took a quick tap penalty and raced 40m before earning the penalty right in front.

With the pace of the game stepping up a notch, the Blue Bulls earned penalty advantage and managed to score their second try from close up. The conversion took the home side to within three points of our score with less than 15 minutes of the game remaining.

But Garth April showed a clean pair of heels as he showed his pace after receiving the perfect pass from his flyhalf and raced all of 45m to the tryline, untouched. That was the bonus point try and scored at a pivotal period in the game, when we really needed to put some breathing space between us.

A scrum penalty in a kickable position was instead, taken quickly and the Blue Bulls would rue their rash decision not to go for posts as their attack was nullified by some determined defence, with Man of the Match Jacques Vermeulen prominent.

The home side simply had no answer and they would not recover from our eight point lead.

We now have the short turnaround before taking on the Lions at Emirate Airline Park this Saturday.