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Vodacom Bulls will be aiming to make an impression as they debut in the Heineken Champions Cup at home to Lyon on Saturday.
Lyon are back in the Heineken Champions Cup after lifting the EPCR Challenge Cup last season, and travel to Pretoria at the start of just their third campaign in EPCR’s elite competition.
Vodacom Bulls demonstrated their strength in their maiden United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign last season, reaching the final after finishing fourth in the table.
Lyon currently sit sixth in the TOP 14, picking seven wins in their opening 12 games, while Vodacom Bulls’ second season in the URC has seen them win seven from nine, leaving them second as it stands.
The Pool A contest gets underway at 17:30 (UK & Irish time) on Saturday, and there is coverage from SuperSport, beIN SPORTS, BT Sport and FloRugby.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) November 26, 2022
Kurt-Lee Arendse (Vodacom Bulls wing): “Obviously this is a competition you want to play in. We know it’s a very physical competition, but we pride ourselves on being a physical team. We’re really looking forward to it and can’t wait to start it off. We like to be competitive, so we want to play in this competition. I know it’s going to be a massive one. But we have got to focus on ourselves and take it from there.”
- Vodacom Bulls fly-half Chris Smith has made the most metres from penalties in the BKT URC this season (1,401).
- David Kriel, wing for the Vodacom Bulls, has made more metres with ball in hand than any other player in the URC – 525 in total.
- A cohesive unit in attack, the Vodacom Bulls have made more try assists than any other club in the URC (27).
- Steering Lyon to EPCR Challenge Cup glory last season, Leo Berdeu scored more points than any other player in the competition (66). He also landed more conversions (11) and penalty goals (13) than any other player.
- Prop Demba Bamba was the most penalised player in last season’s competition, getting pinged 11 times in total.
- The EPCR Challenge Cup winners have the three players with the highest totals for metres made last season: Davit Niniashvili (534), Clement Laporte (289), and Leo Berdeu (285). These three attacking stars also made the most offloads in the competition, 14, seven, and eight respectively.
- Back-row Patrick Sobela won a competition-high eight turnovers in the Challenge Cup last season.
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Vodacom Bulls emerged victorious on their Heineken Champions Cup debut as they beat Lyon 42-36 in an 11-try thriller at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Vodacom Bulls demonstrated their attacking prowess as they crossed through Bernard van der Linde (2), Sibongile Novuka, Nizaam Carr, Stravino Jacobs and Chris Smith, Morné Steyn adding six conversions.
Lyon battled back after going down by 28 points down early on, Arno Botha (2), Liam Coltman, Ethan Dumortier and Kyle Godwin notching the TOP 14 team’s tries while Leo Berdeu kicked 11 points, but completing an improbable comeback proved one step too far.
Last season’s EPCR Challenge Cup winners struggled to find their feet at altitude in Pretoria, and Vodacom Bulls took full advantage as they made a blistering start, wing Novuka scything through the visitors’ defence to dive over on four minutes.
They had a second try inside 10 minutes as scrum-half van der Linde sneaked round the corner to finish from close range after good work from flanker Carr.
And with van der Linde crossing again on 20 minutes following a delightful dummy, and Carr crashing over moments later, the hosts had the bonus point wrapped up inside half an hour.
However, Lyon rallied in the latter stages of the half and two lineout mauls earned them two scores, first through No.8 Botha against his former club and then through hooker Coltman.
Sibongile Novuka take a bow 👏👏👏
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 10, 2022
Vodacom Bulls therefore began the second half with their lead cut to 16 points, but that was quickly extended as wing Jacobs produced a phenomenal score, stepping inside twice to finish under the posts.
But Lyon counterpart Dumortier would hit back with a stunning try of his own moments later, showcasing some clever footwork before muscling over out wide.
And the gap was down to nine points on 48 minutes as Both chipped forward and dived on the loose ball for his second try of the evening, Berdeu adding his third conversion of the game.
Berdeu moved Lyon to within six points with a penalty from some distance on the hour mark, but replacement fly-half Smith eased the pressure on Vodacom Bulls as he finished excellently for his score and Steyn kicked his sixth conversion of the evening.
There was time for yet another top-class try as Lyon centre Godwin dinked over a covering defender and dotted down, and although the game went deep into overtime as the visitors pushed for another score, Vodacom Bulls held on for the win in an incredible contest.
Both sides face Gallagher Premiership opposition in Round 2 next Saturday, with Vodacom Bulls away at 2020 Heineken Champions Cup winners Exeter Chiefs and Lyon hosting three-time champions Saracens.