Top-level rugby returned in South Africa on Saturday after a six-month shutout because of the coronavirus pandemic, as the Bulls beat the Sharks 49-28 in the first of two exhibition games involving the country’s Super Rugby teams.
The Stormers were set to play the Lions later, also at the Bulls’ Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, where no fans were allowed in, and where teams were able to use 15 replacements due to their long layoff.
There had been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March when Super Rugby was cut short.
The games have no bearing on any tournament and have been organized to start South Africa’s preparations for the delayed four-nation Rugby Championship in Australia in November and December. The out-of-practice Springboks players, some of whom turned out for the Bulls and Sharks, have barely a month to be ready to defend their title.
The Bulls led 35-0 after 32 minutes, with a brace from center and South Africa Sevens star Kurt-Lee Arendse the highlight of the first 40 minutes. His first try was a length-of-the-field breakaway from a turnover.
The Bulls’ victory also gave coach Jake White, South Africa’s 2007 World Cup-winning coach, a successful return to coaching in his home country.
The Sharks profited as the game broke up in the second half and both teams made wholesale changes, and the Durban-based team closed to 42-28 with just under 10 minutes to go.
Replacement David Kriel completed a double in the dying minutes for the Bulls, who were captained by Springboks No. 8 Duane Vermeulen. The Sharks were led by Springboks center Lukhanyo Am.
“Its good to be out on the field,” Vermeulen said.
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