Johannesburg - A 14-man Blue Bulls held on to beat the Golden Lions in a thrilling Currie Cup encounter at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Blue Bulls won 31-26, after leading 18-12 at half-time.
Debutant loose forward Fred Eksteen was red-carded in the 19th minute, leaving the Bulls to play for over an hour with just 14 men. On top of that, lock Andries Ferreira was sin-binned in the 61st minute, meaning the visitors had a spell of 10 minutes with just 13 players on the field.
The Lions also out-scored the Bulls four tries to three, but the four penalties added by Manie Libbok proved to be the difference between the two sides.
The match had a frantic start with Libbok putting Cornel Hendricks through for a try straight from the opening kick-off. Unfortunately, he missed the conversion.
The Bulls added a second try around the 10-minute mark. Libbok was the provider once again, timing his pass to perfection to set Dayan Van Der Westhuizen into space. This time Libbok was accurate, taking the score to 12-0..
However, after their electric start, disaster struck for the visitors in the 19th minute when Eksteen was red-carded for shoulder charging the head of an opposition player.
A series of penalties then cost the Bulls dearly as the referee finally had enough as the Lions scrum demolished the away side's seven-man pack - resulting in a penalty try.
The pressure was back on the visitors' pack shortly afterwards when Rosko Specman knocked the ball on inside the 22-metre area.
Another good scrum gave Shaun Reynolds space to throw a side step and show a dummy to burst through the line and score. However, he missed a very simple conversion to leave the scores level at 12-all.
Libbok added a couple of penalties to ensure the Bulls had an 18-12 lead at half time.
The visitors were on the front foot at the start of the second period and Van der Westhuizen thought he'd scored his second try of the game, but the referee blew that it had come up just short and a TMO referral could not find enough evidence to overturn the decision.
From the resulting scrum, the Lions defence left a huge hole in the middle, which Libbok gleefully sprinted into and over the line. He added the extras once again to extend the lead to 25-12.
The Lions then faced a testing period of defence where they just about managed to keep the Bulls out. They pounced immediately following the pressure.
A clearance kick setting up a lineout in the Bulls 22 was followed by a brutal maul sending Pieter Jansen over. Reynolds was accurate this time around.
Libbok added another penalty before Ferreira was sent to the bin for 10 minutes in the 61st minute for the team repeatedly infringing at the breakdown.
The Lions lacked focus in attack and it helped the Bulls keep them at bay for the most part. However, the home side managed to get it together in the 68th minute - while the Bulls were down to 13 players - and Stean Pienaar snuck over in the corner, leaving the men from Pretoria with a slender 28-26 advantage.
The hosts' lack of cohesion cost them again late on as they conceded a scrum penalty, which Libbok gladly popped over the polls to make the score 31-26.
There was a late surge by the Lions, and the Bulls had centre Dylan Sage sent to the sin-bin right at the death, but the hosts could not force their way over from close range.
Despite their defeat, the Lions climbed to the top of the Currie Cup standings courtesy of two bonus points, while the Bulls moved off the bottom to sixth.
In next weekend's action, the Lions host the Sharks at Ellis Park (Sunday, August 18), while the Bulls have a bye.
Tries: Penalty try, Shaun Reynolds, Pieter Jansen, Stean Pienaar
Conversions: Reynolds (2)
Tries: Cornal Hendricks, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Manie Libbok
Conversions: Libbok (2)
Penalties: Libbok (4)
15 Tyrone Green, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Eddie Fouche, 11 Stean Pienaar, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Len Massyn, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sti Sithole
Substitutes: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Leo Kruger, 18 Chergin Fillies, 19 Rhyno Herbst, 20 Vincent Tshituka, 21 James Venter, 22 Dillon Smit, 23 Duncan Matthews
15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl (captain), 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Fred Eksteen, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Dayan van der Westhuizen
Substitutes: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Madot Mabokela, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Andre Smith, 20 Jean Droste, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Stedman Gans