White-led Bulls end trophy drought as female referee makes history

Pretoria (AFP) –


The Bulls ended a 10-year trophy drought by beating the Pumas 21-5 on Saturday to win the South African Super Rugby Unlocked competition in the first top-level 15-a-side match in the country refereed by a woman.

Aimee Barrett-Theron, 33, was the history maker and gave a flawless performance at rain-soaked Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria as the Bulls triumphed after leading 21-0 at half-time.

"This is not how we scrum -- sort it out," she instructed the rival front rows two minutes before the break after yet another set-piece reset.

"That is unnecessary -- do not do that," Barrett-Theron told Bulls full-back David Kriel after he pushed an opponent in an off-the-ball incident during the second half.

Bulls captain and Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok loose forward Duane Vermeulen said: "It is great to be champions again after 10 years even though our performance was not up to standard.

"We let ourselves down in performing basics like lineouts and scrums due to a lack of concentration, especially in the second half."

The Bulls' first triumph since winning the Super Rugby title in 2010 confirmed former Springboks coach Jake White as a worldwide master at reviving the fortunes of teams.

He transformed South Africa from quarter-finals losers at the 2003 Rugby World Cup to winners of the next edition four years later.

White then improved the ACT Brumbies in Australia, the Sharks in South Africa, Montpellier in France, Toyota Verblitz in Japan before joining the Bulls.

- Coaching reshuffle -

The Bulls lost five of six matches in the international Super Rugby competition this year before it was cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Those results prompted a coaching reshuffle with Pote Human replaced by White, who immediately undertook a drastic overhaul of the squad with many newcomers and an almost equal number of departees.

After a hesitant start to the domestic Super Rugby competition, the Bulls scored 80 points in home triumphs over the Sharks and the Stormers to set up their success in the competition.

The win over the Pumas gave them 23 points from five wins and one loss, and a four-point winning margin over the Stormers and the Sharks.

With the Sharks-Stormers fixture in Durban cancelled because of the coronavirus, the Bulls started the match against the lowly Pumas knowing they could afford to lose by 41 points and still finish first.

A Pumas team lying second last in the standings came into the match rusty after a bye and having a match cancelled due to Covid-19.

They struggled in the early stages, conceding tries to Kurt-Lee Arendse, Chris Smith and Ivan van Zyl, all of which Smith converted, and trailed 21-0 after 26 minutes.

But the Pumas were a transformed team in the second half, HP van Schoor scored a try and they became the first opponents of the Bulls in the competition to prevent them scoring in one half of a match.

Meanwhile, the Cheetahs finished fourth after a bonus-point 28-9 victory over the Griquas in Bloemfontein in the final match and the focus now switches to the Currie Cup, which begins next Friday.