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The Vodacom Bulls came out second-best against Ulster in round 16 of the 2022/23 Vodacom United Rugby Championship. The two sides met in a six-try contest at the Kingspan Stadium, which saw the Irish men walk away 32-23 victors in a game of two halves for the visiting Vodacom Bulls.

The hosts opened the points account first for the evening, scoring an unconverted try through speedster, Rob Baloucoune, after turning over a counterattacking move from their hosts. That did not dampen the visiting Pretoria outfit, who were persistent on the attack and looking to make a statement of intent, early in the game. Soon, they would be rewarded with a kick at poles, which Chris Smith duly obliged and slotted over to open their account.

A magnificent team effort – initiated by Kurt-Lee Arendse from the back – saw Canan Moodie chip over the Ulster defence to later offload to Arendse who would finish off a great collaborative try. Smith converted the opportunity and the visitors took a five-point lead halfway through the opening half. The men in blue would continue to persist in applying pressure and pushing their hosts into defensive gear but got little reward for it. So much so that the hosts would find a good passage of play, building up the momentum that eventually saw them convert a good maul into a converted try, to see them take the lead in the match again.

The visiting Vodacom Bulls would soon get rewarded – with 8 minutes left in the opening stanza – having applied a lot of pressure on their hosts’ defensive line, remaining patient, they found another converted try as scrum-half Zak Burger went over the line with a dummy pass that caught Ulster off guard. The try would see the visiting South African side regain a 5-point lead.

On the brink of the break, they would get a chance to kick at goal and Smith made no mistake to see his side head to the sheds eight points ahead.

At the resumption of play, the Vodacom Bulls were dealt an early blow as Elrigh Louw was shown yellow having been judged to have caused an infringement in the maul. That led to Ulster quickly getting on the board with a converted try, to bring the game to a single point. The hosts would find another converted try – 5 minutes from the hour mark – to take a six-point lead from their visitors. The visitors had the opportunity to peg back some points – 2 minutes into the hour mark – as they were awarded a kick for poles, which Smith converted to bring the game to within three points.

A timely penalty to the hosts saw them regain their six-point lead with 7 minutes left on the clock and that proved a mountain too strong for the visiting side, who were reduced to fourteen men for the remainder of the game as Bismarck du Plessis was shown yellow for a late clean.

A late penalty would see the hosts add another 3 points – on the stroke of full time – to register a nine-point victory on the night.

Jake White, Vodacom Bulls Director of Rugby said after the game: “I thought we really played well, the score line is not a true reflection of the way we played. It seems to be one of those seasons where just do all the hard work and not seem to get over the last huddle,”

“The first half we got a lot of opportunities and in the second half within two minutes we were shown yellow and conceded 7 points. We literally went from having an 8 point lead into the tunnel and came out to a 1 point lead and being down to 14 men. It was a game of two halves.”

“We haven’t won in a while and confidence is a bit low but there are positives. We played well at times and there were moments there where we saw the involvement of Kurt-Lee and Canan, guys we haven’t had in our system for a while and we saw how important they are to our tank as well,”

Asked about his thoughts on the yellow cards shown to his side, White remarked: “We have cleanouts like that all over the game, so I do not think it was a penalty. I wonder if their number hadn’t lied down on the ground would that have been looked for? It is something we are going to need to look at going forward in the game because what we don’t want is every time a player gets cleaned out he lies down on the ground and makes the TMO look and review things,”

“It is something we got to be careful of because I know in football they brought something like if you dive you can get sent off too and maybe it is time now do the same rugby because it is now such a fine line now between yellow cards, red cards and TMO involvements, and to avoid getting players trying to use every opportunity to influence the TMO.”

Asked about a few players limping off the field, the Vodacom Bulls mentor said: “There are no glaring reports but a few guys just have minor bumps and bruises but we are all okay.”

White concluded by saying: “This is a difficult period that is testing both players and coaches but there are a couple of results [in the league] that went our way as well, so that keeps us alive. Now we have two games at home so we have to make sure that we do not replicate the result but replicate some of that performance to get over that last hurdle.”

Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse x1, Zak Burger x1
Conversions: Chris Smith x2
Penalties: Chris Smith x3

1. Gerhard Steenekamp, 2. Johan Grobbelaar, 3. Mornay Smith, 4. Ruan Vermaak, 5. Ruan Nortje (c), 6. Marco van Staden, 7. Cyle Brink, 8. Elrigh Louw, 9. Zak Burger, 10. Chris Smith, 11. David Kriel, 12. Harold Vorster, 13. Cornal Hendricks, 14. Canan Moodie, 15. Kurt-Lee Arendse

16. Simphiwe Matanzima 17. Bismarck Du Plessis, 18. Francois Klopper, 19. Janko Swanepoel, 20. WJ Steenkamp, 21. Embrose Papier, 22. Morne Steyn, 23. Stedman Gans

MANAGEMENT: Jake White – Director of Rugby, Nollis Marais – Breakdown, Russell Winter – Forwards, Chris Rossouw – Backs, Werner Kruger – Scrum Coach, Pine Pienaar – Defense Coach, Andre Volsteedt – Strength & Conditioning, John-William Meyer – Technical Analyst, Dr. Gerhard Louwrence – Team Doctor, Lance Lemmetjies – Senior Physiotherapist, Kyle Meyer – Physiotherapist, Elias Bennett – Team Manager, Zama Dyidi – Logistics Manager

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