Andre Pretorius recaptured the magic of his Springbok days as his exemplary kicking display guided the Leopards XV to a hard-fought 33-26 victory (halftime 9-16) over the Vodacom Blue Bulls in their Vodacom Cup match at Loftus B in Pretoria on Saturday.
The former Springbok second five-eighths was successful with eight of his nine attempts at goal, and amassed 23 points to help his side to an unlikely victory after trailing by 14 points in the second half.
Things had begun promisingly for the hosts, as flyhalf Tony Jantjies slotted a penalty in just the third minute of the game. His counterpart Pretorius then got the Leopards on the board with a penalty of his own 10 minutes later, but Jantjies gave his team a useful cushion with two further penalties before the 25-minute mark.
Eighth-man Jean Cook’s try in the 37th minute put the Blue Bulls in firm control after Pretorius had narrowed the gap with his second penalty, but some ill-discipline cost them in the final seconds of the half as they gave away a kick-able penalty in injury time. Pretorius made no mistake from the kicking tee, and, for all their dominance, the home side enjoyed just a seven-point lead at the break.
Yet normality appeared to be restored to the occasion, as flanker Roelof Smit dotted down within three minutes of the restart, and the ensuing conversion from his flyhalf Jantjies meant the Leopards were trailing 23-9, and facing a mountain to climb.
However, some canny substitutions by the visitors had the desired effect, and the balance of the game began to shift. Pretorius got his side right back in the mix with three penalties in the space of eight minutes, and the Leopards continued to press forward.
The home side were unable to stop some relentless Leopards pressure, and a superb try from flanker Rhyk Welgemoed gave his team parity in the 62nd minute.
The home crowd’s spirits were briefly lifted, as Jantjies’ penalty five minutes later gave his team a three-point lead, but a converted try in the 72nd minute from eighth-man Morne Hanekom put the Leopards in front for the first time in the afternoon, and when Pretorius nailed his seventh penalty three minutes from time, the Leopards were home and dry.
The unlikely win sees the visitors move above the Blue Bulls into second place in the Northern Section standings, and on course for a spot in the playoffs, albeit with three games still to play.
The home side, however, will be left feeling aggrieved after controlling much of the encounter, and the untimely reverse sees them slip to fourth place on the log.
VODACOM BLUE BULLS – Tries: Jean Cook, Roelof Smit; Conversions: Tony Jantjies (2); Penalties: Tony Jantjies (4)
LEOPARDS XV – Tries: Rhyk Welgemoed, Morne Hanekom; Conversion: Andre Pretorius; Penalties: Andre Pretorius (7)