Akona Ndungane scored a brace of tries as the Vodacom Blue Bulls finally broke their Absa Currie Cup duck with a hard-fought 30-25 win over the EP Kings at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The victory signalled the Blue Bulls’ first victory of the season, but will hardly instill a plethora of confidence in their Currie Cup campaign as they made heavy weather of the victory and were less than convincing at times.
At least there were some positives, mainly provided by the changes that coach Frans Ludeke made as the youth brigade backed up the confidence in them with some sterling performances, not least that of fullback Jesse Kriel.
But considering the player budget, the proud history and the resources at their disposal, the Blue Bulls will feel relieved to finally be on the winning side of the results column, although they are a far cry from the level of play that is needed to win this competition.
The Kings can feel proud of their performance, and although they looked outgunned on paper, they managed to never give up and were in the game right until the end.
Given a bit more confidence and discipline and they could have turned a loss into a victory. In any case it was a much better performance than their 60-19 loss to the Xerox Golden Lions a week earlier and at times they really shook the Bulls' belief that they cannot be beaten at Loftus Versfeld.
Still, while the performance was better than the opening two weeks, the Bulls pack were hardly dominant and their execution of their game plan really needs work if they are to make an impact in this year’s competition.
Key performers included nuggety hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who was a constant thorn in the Kings’ side, while Marcel van der Merwe, Paul Willemse and Jono Ross put in solid performances, with Rudy Paige enjoying his time behind the scrum.
Tony Jantjies was solid at 10, although his missed kicks placed a lot more pressure on the Blue Bulls than they would have liked, and a lot more work on the practice field is needed if he is to continue at 10.
COSTLY YELLOW CARD
The Kings were the team that really started well, exploiting the Blue Bulls' lack of organisation on defence as they found a four-on-one overlap, and simply used the width of the field before sending the ball inside that Tim Whitehead could open the scoring.
But the Blue Bulls are nothing if not predictable, and they simply went back to their strength of the rolling maul, to capitalise on the Kings’ weakness as they rumbled 40 metres before Deon Stegmann planted the ball over the line.
Jantjies slotted a penalty in the 27th minute to extend the lead, but it was quickly pulled back by a Scott van Breda shot just before halftime to leave the home side just three points up at the break.
The Kings took the lead early in the second half again, as on attack they spotted a big gap around the fringes which prop Lizo Gqoboka took with ease to put his side into the lead.
The Blue Bulls lost Tony Jantjies as he tried to stop a quick tap penalty and was rewarded with a yellow card, as Van Breda extended the lead with a penalty.
But it was when reserve hooker Michael van Vuuren was carded for repeated team infringements that the Blue Bulls took control with Ndungane providing the perfect finish to two backline moves.
The winger scored in either corner to make the yellow card an expensive one and put his team back into the lead and it seemed as if the Blue Bulls had full control when Kriel took a superb gap to score the try of the afternoon and his first at Currie Cup level.
Van Vuuren did make up for the card by snatching a dropped ball from the kickoff to run in and score, bringing his team within five as the clock ticked down.
The Blue Bulls closed the game out well, trapping the Kings in their own half and forcing them to play from deep, while trying to capitalise from the mistakes.
Their street smarts and experience won the day as the Kings couldn’t exit from their part of the field and time simply ran out.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – tries: Deon Stegmann, Akona Ndungane (2), Jesse Kriel. Conversions Tony Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
EP Kings – tries: Tim Whitehead, Lizo Gqoboka, Mike van Vuuren. Conversions: Scott van Breda (2). PenaltieS: Van Breda (2).
Yellow cards: Tony Jantjies (Blue Bulls), Mike van Vuuren (Kings)