Bulls seal maximum over Exeter, La Rochelle edge Ulster : PlanetRugby
The Bulls claimed a 39-28 bonus-point victory over Exeter Chiefs in a high-scoring Champions Cup encounter at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Elrigh Louw, David Kriel, Ruan Vermaak, Wandisile Simelane (2) and Johan Grobbelaar crossed for the Bulls while Chris Smith and Johan Goosen contributed off the tee as the Pretoria outfit claimed their second triumph from three pool games so far.
For Exeter, Josh Hodge, Solomone Kata, Jannes Kirsten and Jack Innard scored as they left South Africa with a try bonus point to show for their efforts.
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England international Henry Slade was given his marching orders in the second half for a high tackle on Kurt-Lee Arendse, putting his participation at the start of this year’s Six Nations campaign – which begins next month at home to Scotland – in doubt.
Despite the red card, Exeter finished strongly enough to stay above their opponents in the table with a home game against Castres to come.
It was hooker Innard who forced his way over in the dying seconds for Exeter’s fourth try, although the home side scored six en route to a comfortable win.
Exeter had started strongly at Loftus Versfeld’s height, but a lack of discipline allowed the home side to open the scoring from a tap-in penalty under the posts which saw number eight Louw cross over from close range before Smith converted.
Exeter hit straight back with center Slade sending out a superb pass to full-back Hodge who cut out the lightning-fast Kriel.
Hodge had some work to do but found the open spaces to run 40 yards to score under the posts as Joe Simmonds converted.
The Bulls were clearly taking notes because when replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis earned a turnover, they also sent a pass to their fullback who cut through the charged defence.
Arendse showed speed to run clear, center Simelane caught the ball and put it back in for Kriel to get the try.
When in doubt, Exeter can always rely on the line drive. A scrum penalty gave them the chance for a five-metre lineout, and the backs joined the forwards in the drive to the line, with center Kata getting the score.
Just before half-time, the Bulls got their second try from a drop penalty under the posts, and this time it was second row Vermaak who charged over.
They extended their lead soon after, Simelane flying in front and capitalizing on a lucky bounce to collect and score his first try for the Bulls.
The pace of the game even bothered referee Mathieu Raynal, who left with a hamstring injury and was replaced by touch referee Thomas Charabas.
His first action was a scrum penalty against Exeter and Bulls hooker Grobbelaar went over from the lineout drive.
Charabas’ other big decision was the red card of Exeter skipper Slade.
The spirit of 14-man Exeter was shown when Kirsten went over for a try – as Harvey Skinner added the extras – before Simelane sealed the result with an intercept try.
But it set up the grandstand finish with the visitors pushing for the bonus point try and eventually getting it at the end through Innard.
La Rochelle scored at the death to sink Ulster
Ulster suffered late agony against La Rochelle as the reigning Champions Cup holders crossed at the death to secure a 7-3 win at the Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Nathan Doak kicked a penalty in the 63rd minute to put Ulster in front but the French side grabbed it at the end when substitute Joel Sclavi crashed over from a driving lineout.
Antoine Hastoy got the conversion and Ulster will feel hard done by following a heroic defensive display.
Ulster produced an impressive performance and adapted to the driving wind and rain better than the hosts, having two first-half tries disallowed.
The visitors had lost their previous two games against Sale Sharks and La Rochelle at home in Pool B and were playing for pride on French soil.
Coach Dan McFarland made eight changes to the side that lost 31-29 to Benetton in the United Rugby Championship last week.
The Ulster boss was forced to make another change when Ben Moxham was brought on to replace Billy Burns on the bench just before kick-off.
The first match between the two sides was controversially switched to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and played behind closed doors after Ulster’s Kingspan Stadium pitch was deemed unplayable the day before the match.
The tough conditions in France were evident after Hastoy’s early low penalty in the wind was held up and hit the post.
Scrum-half Doak’s attempted penalty for Ulster from deep in his own half fell short to demonstrate just how strong the wind was at his back.
Flank Nick Timoney looked set to score the first try of the game for Ulster but dropped the ball before crashing over the home side’s line.
Wing Rob Lyttle suffered the same fate after he looked set to score a try but it was ruled out for a knock on earlier in the move, leaving Ulster having crossed the whitewash twice with both scores ruled out and the score 0-0 at half-time – time.
After the break the home team adapted better to the weather, but the game was still dominated by the conditions with little rugby played by both sides.
Doak got his penalty just after the hour when La Rochelle were penalized to give the Belfast side the lead, but they were denied right at the end when prop Sclavi crossed for the vital try.
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