The victory must be judged against the high error-rate in a typical end-of-season match between two sides already out of the running, and the weakness of the opposition – with the result condemning the Rebels to the wooden spoon.
Nevertheless, coach Frans Ludeke must be wondering what might have been as the Bulls gave glimpses of being able to fix many of the things that have plagued them this season.
The Bulls have a formidable lineout, this we know, but they also have a mighty scrum when their front-rankers put their mind to it, which they usually do at home but, frustratingly, not outside of Pretoria. Both set-pieces clicked for the Bulls last night and they thoroughly dominated the Rebels in the tight phases.
Piet van Zyl was eventually given a start at scrumhalf and the Bulls certainly looked a slicker outfit with him directing the traffic. Francois Hougaard was shifted out to the wing, and seemed to enjoy the space he had in which to work his magic, having a busy evening and scoring a fine try in which he beat three defenders.
Springbok considerations have encouraged Ludeke to persist with Hougaard at scrumhalf, but the time has surely come to give Van Zyl an extended run in the number nine jersey.
The Rebels were competitive in the first half, only trailing 7-12 at the break, and that was only due to the absence of a top-class goal-kicker in their team. For all his powerful running and ability to take the gap at flyhalf, Jack Debreczeni had a woeful night with the boot, missing three vital first-half penalties.
The opening minutes provided a foretaste of the Rebels’ biggest problem last night as they spent a prolonged period deep inside Bulls’ territory from the kick-off, but failed to score any points as Debreczeni missed a penalty and they turned over the ball on the tryline.
The Bulls’ first visit into the Rebels’ 22 brought points courtesy of a Handre Pollard penalty for offsides. The youngster enjoyed a faultless night in terms of goal-kicking, epitomising the home side’s ability to turn territory into points, while the Rebels failed to take their chances.
Two tries in the third quarter gave the Bulls security.
A lovely break by fullback Jurgen Visser was followed by Van Zyl firing a pinpoint pass into the gap and lock Paul Willemse galloped on to it to score the Bulls’ first try.
Eleven minutes later, replacement prop Dean Greyling roared off a lineout, smashing the Rebels’ defence and opening the way for Willemse to score his second try.
Hougaard and Greyling, amongst the most frustrating players of this campaign, completed the scoring for the Bulls. Both are potent forces with ball in hand – Hougaard the nimble rapier, Greyling the bludgeoning tank – and Bulls fans will just be wishing they, and their team as a whole, fired more often.
The bonus point victory lifts the Bulls into ninth place on the final log, where they will stay, regardless of what happens today.
Bulls – Tries: Paul Willemse (2), Francois Hougaard, Dean Greyling. Conversions: Handre Pollard (3), Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Penalties: Pollard (4).
Melbourne Rebels – Try: Jack Debreczeni. Conversion: Debreczeni.