In a Carling Currie Cup thriller at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night, the Vodacom Bulls held on to claim a close 31-26 win over a spirited Airlink Pumas side.
It was edge-of-the-seat rugby in the fiercely contested encounter which saw the visitors from Mbombela claiming dominance in the early stages of the game.
The Vodacom Bulls were dealt a blow prior to kick-off when veteran hooker, Bismarck du Plessis, was forced to be withdrawn from the match-day squad and his place in the starting XV was taken by Sidney Tobias, who gave a good account of himself with an impressive performance, while Schalk Erasmus was roped into the team as cover.
The Airlink Pumas scored the opening try as early as fifth minute. This was the first try of the evening for winger, Sebastian de Klerk, who went on to score a first half hat-trick with hooker Eduan Swart adding the fourth try of the visiting team which took their total tally to 26 in the first 40 minutes of the game.
The home side only managed a penalty try and an unconverted David Kriel touchdown in the first half that took the score at the break to 12-26 in favour of the team from Mpumalanga.
Whatever was said by Vodacom Bulls head coach, Gert Smal, at half time inspired the home side to return with an added hunger to secure the home victory.
In the 46th minute, Vodacom Bulls’ newest recruit, Ruan Vermaak, announced his arrival to the Loftus faithful when he scored the first points of the second half. This was followed by a try from fullback, James Verity-Amm, before Kriel added his second five-pointer of the night.
The Airlink Pumas played the majority of the match with 14 men after flyhalf, Tinus de Beer, was given a red card for a dangerous tackle on Vodacom Bulls winger, Richard Kriel.
The victory for the Vodacom Bulls catapulted them to the top spot on the log, in the process setting up a thrilling encounter when they face top-of-the-table rivals, Toyota Cheetahs, who remain unbeaten.
The Vodacom Bulls will meet the Toyota Cheetahs in their next and final Carling Currie Cup round-robin match which will be played in Bloemfontein on Saturday, June 11.
Vodacom Bulls (12) 31
TRIES: Penalty Try, David Kriel (2), Ruan Vermaak, James Verity-Amm.
CONVERSIONS: Morne Steyn (2)
Airlink Pumas (26) 26
TRIES: Sebastian de Klerk (3), Eduan Swart.
CONVERSIONS: Eddie Fouche (3)