With both teams coming off defeats and the winner set to unseat the Cell C Sharks at the summit after the COVID-hit Durbanites’ scheduled clash with the New Nation Pumas had to be cancelled, there was ample motivation.
Schalk Erasmus and Kurt-Lee Arendse headlined the try-scoring with a brace apiece as the defending champions pulled clear after a gutsy, injury-ravaged Tafel Lager Griquas side ran out of steam in the final quarter.
The Vodacom Bulls conceded a yellow card in each half, yet on both occasions they handily outscored their opponents despite being a man down. That summed up the defensive woes of the visitors, who were also dominated in the scrums and worn down by the hosts’ powerful driving maul.
Tafel Lager Griquas got off to a strong start, dominating possession and leading 6-0 after seven minutes, George Whitehead punishing the Vodacom Bulls who’d conceded a string of penalties.
Mornay Smith was yellow-carded in the ninth minute for a no-arms tackle on Cameron Lindsay. The visitors attacked but a vital turnover by Elrigh Louw staved off the danger.
The Pretoria outfit finally got some possession and made it count as they mauled it up and won a penalty, which allowed Johan Goosen to open their account against the grain in the 13th minute. Goosen was in for a seven-pointer moments later after halfback partner Zak Burger had charged down Whitehead’s kick. The Tafel Lager Griquas No 10 recovered the ball but threw a reckless pass that was picked off by his opposite number for a simple score.
Smith re-entered the fray with his team having scored 10 unanswered points in his absence, an ironic turnaround based as much on the Vodacom Bulls waking up as the Peacock Blues being lackadaisical on defence. The lead ballooned to 20-6 as Erasmus powered over from close range before Arendse rounded off an excellent end-to-end attacking sequence.
Whitehead slotted his third penalty in the 35th minute and as the half-time hooter sounded, Tafel Lager Griquas struck a timely blow as Chris Hollis made a great break before Stefan Ungerer snuck over in the right-hand corner. Whitehead’s terrific touchline conversion pulled them back to 20-16 as the sides headed into the sheds.
It turned into a one-point game two minutes into the second half as replacement prop Erich de Jager won a textbook breakdown penalty for his pivot to pop over. The Vodacom Bulls hit back right away with the men from the Northern Cape again letting in a soft try as the towering Walt Steenkamp touched down. Goosen kicked the conversion and a penalty goal soon thereafter to give the home team breathing room again at 30-19 after 51 minutes.
Then came a double blow as Arendse saw yellow and cost his team a penalty try for deliberately knocking down Ungerer’s pass with the visitors having a two-man overlap and an open try line. At 30-26, it was game on but the yellow card “curse” continued for Tafel Lager Griquas as the 14-man hosts struck twice.
First, Champion of the Match Louw sliced clean through with a brilliant line and perfectly-timed run and then Erasmus peeled off the back of a driving maul to go over for his brace. Goosen converted both to put the hosts in a commanding 44-26 lead with 12 minutes left.
Not content, they scored two more tries against the fatigued visitors, replacement front-rower Jan-Hendrik Wessels barging over for his first Carling Currie Cup five-pointer and Arendse grabbing his second of the match. Replacement hooker Janco Uys scored a well-taken but consolation try for Tafel Lager Griquas, who came away empty-handed as the men from Pretoria moved into pole position.
Vodacom Bulls 56 (20) – Tries: Johan Goosen, Schalk Erasmus (2), Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), Walt Steenkamp, Elrigh Louw, Jan-Hendrik Wessels. Conversions: Johan Goosen (4), Chris Smith. Penalty goals: Goosen (2).
Tafel Lager Griquas 33 (16) – Try: Stefan Ungerer, Penalty try, Janco Uys. Conversion: George Whitehead (2). Penalty goals: Whitehead (4).