Simelane stars as composed Bulls tame 14-man Exeter and injured ref Raynal

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Chris Smith carries for the Bulls. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
Chris Smith carries for the Bulls. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

Despite Jake White stating a few weeks back that the Bulls are prioritising winning the URC title this season over a productive run in Europe, they're definitely not showing it yet.

Spurred on by the very deep belief that they simply can't afford to slip up at Fortress Loftus regardless of the occasion, the men in blue took a major leap towards qualifying for the Champions Cup knockouts with a fine 39-28 victory over a 14-man Exeter on Saturday night.

This was an outing that vividly illustrated why the Bulls are potentially one of the more formidable sides in northern hemisphere club rugby when their game management and composure is in the zone.

In the early exchanges, there would have been reservations over the home side's ability to topple one of English rugby's heavyweights as Exeter dominated the opening 10 minutes, taking advantage of the Bulls' reluctance to kick possession and caging them in their own half.

However, the Bulls summoned some excellent defence, which notably saw what looked a certain try being snuffled out, laying the foundation for a momentum shift that had them taking overall control.

Elrigh Louw made their first real incursion count as he barged over from a 5m tap penalty, only for Exeter to hit back on a break where a superb pass into space led to young fullback Josh Hodge scything through a gap.

Yet the Bulls didn't let that score against the run of play become a mental handicap.

Instead, they knuckled down and launched a brilliant reply when Bismarck du Plessis - on as a temporary replacement for Johan Grobbelaar - made a superb steal in midfield and combined with Zak Burger to launch a swift counter that featured a lightning run from the prone Kurt-Lee Arendse and an incisive inside pass from Wandisile Simelane to David Kriel.

That wasn't to be the energetic Simelane's last contribution for the night.

Meanwhile, Mornay Smith's initial blues at scrum time against an adamant referee in Mathieu Raynal led to the penalty that saw Solomone Kata score from an Exter maul, but the Bulls kept their composure and gained a crucial buffer when Ruan Vermaak, growing as an enforcer at No 4, scored from another 5m tap penalty after Gerhard Steenekamp was agonisingly held short.

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A bizarre second half prompted the Bulls to make the game safe.

Simelane showed his well-honed soccer skills with a fine chip off a Johan Grobbelaar pass that was lucky not to be called forward and regathered to open up a more substantial advantage.

Grobbelaar was on hand to round off a maul a few minutes later.

In between, Raynal bemoaned on television that he's "too old" as he tweaked his hamstring trying to keep up with a hasty and enthusiastic Bulls backline and couldn't continue.

Compatriot Thomas Charabas took over and not only immediately rewarded the maligned Smith for a good hit at a scrum and then sent off Exeter skipper Henry Slade for a harsh red card.

Up to defend a kick forward to Arendse - Charabas was playing advantage - his initial contact was to the Bok star's shoulder but then shifted to the beck as Arendse changed his running angle.

That was arguably a mitigating factor, but Charabas thought otherwise.

If anything, however, Exeter finished the last 20 minutes stronger as the Bulls lost focus on attack and, while generally keeping shape on defence, being eventually required to make too many tackles.

As a result, the Chiefs secured a vital bonus point and might've gotten closer has Simelane not topped off a fine night with an intercept for his second try.  

Scorers:

Bulls 39 (20)

Tries: Wandisile Simelane (2), Elrigh Louw, David Kriel, Ruan Vermaak, Johan Grobbelaar

Conversiona: Chris Smith (2), Johan Goosen

Penalty: Smith

Exeter 28 (14)

Tries: Josh Hodge, Solomone Kata,Jannes Kirsten, Daffyd Jenkins

Conversions: Joe Simmonds (2), Harvey Skinner (2)


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