With their forwards setting the tone on a windy and rainy evening at the RDS Arena, dominating the collisions and stopping Leinster from gaining any momentum in the set pieces, the Vodacom Bulls became the first South African team to win a Vodacom URC match in the Irish capital.
Their defence was also superb, restricting Leinster’s famous attack in a way seldom seen in Dublin and forcing the hosts to make errors, and although the hosts outscored the men from Pretoria by four tries to three, they failed to get any form of proper momentum, mainly due to the Vodacom Bulls’ superb tackling.
The Vodacom Bulls also challenged hard on the ground, winning turnovers at the rucks, and they also stole a number of crucial Leinster lineouts to ensure they stay in the fight.
The game was played at a massive pace with both teams hammering hard on attack, the Vodacom Bulls using strong driving play mixed with quick ball, while Leinster’s backline dazzled with great handling.
The visitors were under pressure early, and Leinster made them pay with Dan Sheehan (hooker) going over after a clever kick into space in the ninth minute.
But the Vodacom Bulls weren’t rattled and after Chris Smith (flyhalf) got them on the board with a 14th minute penalty goal, they built some momentum and set up camp in the hosts’ half. Canan Moodie went over for what looked like a great try, but the TMO intervened as the Junior Springbok fullback just lost the ball over the line.
The Vodacom Bulls were on advantage though and from a quick tap penalty, Man of the Match Johan Grobbelaar (hooker) crashed over from what looked like a primary school training ground move in the 18th minute. Smith’s conversion put the visitors in the lead by 10-7.
Seven minutes later, Vodacom Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee continued with his prolific try-scoring rate as he went over under the uprights after yet another physical surge upfield by the visitors.
With Leinster 17-7 down late in the first half, the hometown crowd were stunned to silence, but Irish international Robbie Henshaw finally got them more points when he scored a brilliant try down the left after another strong move by the hosts. Ross Byrne added his second conversion and after another few minutes of proper tit for tat, the teams went into the break with the Vodacom Bulls leading by 17-14.
The second half started evenly, with the Vodacom Bulls building on the momentum from the first half, and 13 minutes in, they set up a superb maul that was brought to ground illegally which led not only to a penalty try to the visitors, but also a yellow card to Leinster’s captain, James Ryan.
Leading by 24-14, the visitors held well until the 70th minute, when Rory O’Loughlin (wing) went over for Leinster’s third try from a great backline move from a lineout.
Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton missed the conversion, which was crucial, especially when the visitors' experienced replacement flyhalf Morne Steyn (who else?) kicked a 76th minute penalty goal to put the South Africans eight points in front, and despite a late converted try by the hosts, it was not enough to prevent a famous Vodacom Bulls victory.
Leinster 26 (14) – Tries: Dan Sheehan, Robbie Henshaw, Rory O’Loughlin, Cian Healy. Conversions: Ross Byrne (2), Johnny Sexton.
Vodacom Bulls 27 (17) – Tries: Johan Grobbelaar, Marcell Coetzee, Penalty try. Conversions: Chris Smith (2). Penalty goals: Smith, Morne Steyn.