2024 Vodacom Bulls vs Leinster - Semifinal #1

Bulls Vs. Leinster URC Semifinal Recap: Underdog Bulls Win A Loftus Classic

Bulls Vs. Leinster URC Semifinal Recap: Underdog Bulls Win A Loftus Classic

The Vodacom Bulls defeated Leinster Rugby in the BKT United Rugby Championship semifinals, as Cameron Hanekom starred. Here is a match recap from Pretoria.

Jun 15, 2024 by Briar Napier
Bulls Vs. Leinster URC Semifinal Recap: Underdog Bulls Win A Loftus Classic

Count out the Vodacom Bulls all you want. 

Even when the hosts are undermanned underdogs, beating a South African side at the rugby colossus of Loftus Versfeld is one of the toughest tasks for a visiting team to pull off in the sport.

And after pulling off a stunner in an instant classic in Pretoria on Saturday that showed exactly why nothing is a given when a European side visits the South African capital, the Bulls — defying the odds and defending home soil with a fire that few home venues other than Loftus can provide — are back in the United Rugby Championship final. 

In one of the most epic games of rugby of the URC season, the Bulls, even without the injured Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse at their disposal on the wings, stunned a Leinster side loaded to the teeth in a 25-20 upset to get to the final for the second time in three years.

With numerous players on both sides of the Loftus pitch who likely will feature in the South Africa-Ireland test scheduled to be held at the same venue in early July, the Bulls and Leinster embarked on a potential mini-preview of what’s to come (with likely similar intensity) when the summer international tests get going. 

But, it's only the Bulls’ players who will have the chance to go into one of the summer’s most anticipated test series off the back of a URC title.

Bulls fly-half Johan Goosen was brilliant, scoring all of his team’s first-half points (through a try, conversion and penalty) to put the South Africans up 10-7 on Leinster at the intermission. His boot continued to be steady, as replacement wing Sergeal Petersen — only seeing extended playing time due to the Bulls’ injury concerns on their back line — obtained a second-half brace, including the match’s go-ahead try in the 67th minute.

Petersen’s rapid pace led to Leinster’s defense being caught napping during the game-winning sequence as a routine high box kick from Embrose Papier fell into an opportunistic Petersen’s hands, where he wasn’t being caught from there as he leapt over the try line and sent Loftus into hysterics.

Backed by the roar of Loftus, the Bulls held on for dear life for the final 10-plus minutes, stopping a 22-phase Leinster sequence at one point and stifling the eight-time champions time after time with their separate seasons on the line. 

Leinster was unable to break through at the end, and the Irish provincial side will now be held trophyless for the third straight year despite having one of the most talented rosters in club rugby.

A raucous Loftus was jumping from the opening kick, and the home support erupted into jubilation when the Bulls appeared to have scored the game’s first points 19 minutes in via a try from Devon Williams. However, the five points were taken off of the board quickly following TMO review as Marco van Staden illegally took out Ross Byrne in the buildup.

Petersen was sin-binned a few minutes later for a knock-on, and Leinster quickly seized an opportunity with an extra man through James Lowe. Goosen’s try and kicks calmed any nerves on the Bulls side, though, and they were able to take a lead after 40 minutes because of him.

Right after the second half’s start, Peterson made amends for his first-half yellow with a stunner of a try two minutes in, outpacing Leinster on a kick through to help put the Bulls up 10. Caelan Doris was decisive in Leinster’s response less than 10 minutes later, however, as Leinster went for the try line rather than an awarded penalty kick from close range, where Doris was able to cross over.

A Byrne penalty in the 59th minute evened up the scores at 17-17, and traded kicks from Goosen and Byrne in the next few minutes that followed made for a helter-skelter ending. That setup for late drama delivered as just a few moments after Byrne made it 20-20, Petersen made himself a newfound Bulls legend with his second — and most important — try of the match.

The Bulls will wait for their URC final opponent to be decided Saturday as they’ll face the winner of the Munster-Glasgow Warriors late semifinal. A Munster win would see the final held at Thomond Park, while a Warriors victory would see the Scottish side travel to Loftus to face the Bulls.

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