Billy Vunipola was given a red card as the Bulls easily defeated Saracens in the Champions Cup.
The Saracens traveled to Pretoria in search of some winter sunshine, but instead they were met with a harsh reality. The Bulls are confident in their ability to be the first South African team to win the Champions Cup in Europe, and it’s not hard to see why. Many teams have left the Loftus Versfeld Stadium without a victory, and the three-time champions were no different.
The presence of Owen Farrell on a team guarantees that they will not be easily defeated. The fly-half, who was previously the captain of England, made his comeback to his club after the unexpected news that he would not be participating in the Six Nations. Despite Saracens’ strong performance, it was evident by halftime that they were trailing by 14 points. Playing at a high altitude and against a team with a dominant pack and skilled back line, it was clear that this would be a difficult task to overcome on the Highveld.
Despite Saracens’ disappointing performance in Pool One, all hope is not lost. However, their lack of discipline was a major downfall, highlighted by Billy Vunipola’s reckless charge resulting in a red card. This followed two early yellow cards given to his teammates. The absence of Ben Earl was sorely felt by the team.
Elliot Daly, who received a yellow card earlier in the match, scored a try in the final quarter, but his and Theo McFarland’s second try were not enough to make up for the loss. Saracens ended the game strongly as the Bulls struggled with their own discipline, and the addition of Theo Dan and McFarland provided a boost for Saracens in the end. The Bulls were disappointed that they could not earn a bonus point for scoring tries, but the outcome of the game was never truly uncertain.
This is a hostile place and Saracens were under the hammer right from the start. Willie le Roux helped stretch play to the visitors’ left and David Kriel cruised over the line for the first try of the evening before Saracens got their breath back in the thin air and Farrell landed a reassuring penalty.
However, the Bulls resumed their aggressive attack and were close to scoring another impressive try from their captain, Elrigh Louw. The play started in their own 22. Johan Goosen and Owen Farrell each scored a penalty, but things got more difficult for Saracens when Alex Goode was penalized for obstructing Kurt-Lee Arendse as he kicked the ball forward. As a result, Goode was given a yellow card by the referee, Andrea Piardi.
With a numerical advantage, the Bulls were energized and attempted another try. However, Stedman Gans barely touched the touchline before crossing for what could have been another impressive score. The touch judge’s flag was raised, but the biased audience chose not to inform Signore Piardi.
After Daly was accused of intentionally knocking the ball, the Bulls intensified their offensive efforts. Itoje received a yellow card for obstructing the ball, but Goode’s return to the game was nullified. The Bulls chose not to take three points and instead, Swanepoel scored their second try just before halftime.
Following a pause in the game, the Bulls gave up an easy penalty which Farrell miscalculated, causing his kick towards the corner to go too far beyond the corner flag. This appeared to be a costly error and another forward pass prevented Swanepoel from scoring a second try after a remarkable run by Arendse. The Bulls’ strong scrum allowed them to set up a drive towards Saracens’ goal line, but impressive efforts from Farrell and Vunipola stopped them from scoring a third try.
The audience didn’t have to wait for very long. Arendse brought a bit of magic to the event, and his break allowed Canan Moodie, the other Bulls’ wing, to have a chance at scoring the highest in the game.
Vunipola’s reckless challenge on Embrose Papier then helped settle Saracens’ fate. This was an 11,000 mile round trip for Saracens and the home flight would not have been a happy one.