The Vodacom Bulls had to settle for a bonus point loss in their trip to Belfast in round two of the 2023/24 Vodacom United Rugby championship fixture. Despite outscoring their hosts three tries to two, the Tshwane outfit went down 26-19 to their counterparts at the Kingspan Stadium in freezing conditions in the East of Northern Ireland.
After withstanding some early pressure in the encounter, the visiting side found themselves trailing their hosts who converted two tries inside the opening thirty. It took the men in blue a little over the half-hour mark to kick into gear, dotting down back-to-back tries in the last four minutes of the opening stanza to bring the game back to level ground. Fly-half, Johan Goosen was denied by strong winds in one conversion attempt in the half, leaving the hosts with a two-point (14-12) lead going into the break.
The second half was a scrape under trying weather conditions as the Belfast skies opened up for a downpour that made the finish tricky. The Vodacom Bulls pushed Ulster to the limits, however, the Kingspan side would defend with great tenacity whilst making good use of some unforced errors by the South African outfit which saw the hosts slot in four penalty kicks to add a further 12 points in the second half.
Jake White’s herd would have their opportunities to pull things back but only converted one of those when Elrigh Louw bulldozed his way over in the 69th minute with Goosen converting it as the men from the highveld searched for a way back into the game. In the end, it wasn’t to be as they went down by six points to earn a bonus point on their opening outing on this leg of their European tour.
Speaking after the game, White said: “We probably didn’t help ourselves by making too many costly mistakes. To be fair, we scored three tries and still lost the game. We probably didn’t do ourselves any favours because we turned over the ball a few times on their try line but it is tough to win, tough to win away from home as well,”
“I was pleased with the way we fought back, I am very proud of the way we came back towards the end of the first half and the way we pulled it back at the end of the match. Had it not been for the last play of the match who knows, it could have been a draw so I have got to be proud of the fact that they did not lie down and die,”
“We take a lot of positives out of the match. Defensively we were very strong tonight, they pounded at our line a few times and we got out of that and pushed them for a few turnovers. This time last year we probably would have leaked a couple of tries, so there is a couple of positives for us to take.”
The Vodacom Bulls next travel to Italy where they will face Zebre Parma on Saturday 04 November, kicking off at 13h00 at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
Tries: Gerhard Steenekamp x1, Sebastian de Klerk x1, Elrigh Louw x1
Conversions: Johan Goosen x2