The Reds must be heartily sick of the view from behind the Loftus Versfeld goalposts as they succumbed to another heavy defeat there at the hands of the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday night, conceding six tries in a 43-22 defeat.
It was the Reds’ sixth successive loss in Pretoria and they have now conceded exactly 300 points in those games.
The Bulls are now top of the SuperRugby South African Conference, two points ahead of the Stormers, three points ahead of the Lions and four in front of the Sharks, with a game in hand over both of those last two sides, so they must be heading towards their overseas tour with confidence building.
Fullback Jesse Kriel must be in contention as a World Cup bolter later this year, featuring strongly in the tournament rankings for defenders beaten, carries and metres gained, and he was outstanding in all facets of his game on Saturday night, attacking with vigour from the back, kicking well and defending stoutly.
It was Kriel who set the Bulls on their way in the eighth minute as, following a Jacques-Louis Potgieter penalty four minutes earlier, he sped away from his own 22 after gathering an attempted grubber that had been deflected by wing Francois Hougaard.
Kriel ran all the way to the Reds’ 22 before passing inside to Hougaard, who had enough strength to carry a tackler over the line for the opening try.
The first half was dominated by the Bulls’ successful tactic of bombarding the Reds with high kicks, but it was nevertheless exciting viewing and the second half opened up into a try bonanza.
The Reds deserve to be included in any praise for the spectacle as they played with plenty of ambition, especially in the second half, and they showed their intent with their fine opening try in the 16th minute.
Flyhalf Nick Frisby attacked the line, chipped over and then re-gathered, before sending a long pass out to wing Lachie Turner to race away and score.
But aerial warfare was the name of the game for the Bulls in the first half and they quickly replied with their second try, eighthman Pierre Spies storming on to the ball after Turner had failed to gather a Kriel kick, the Bulls captain roaring over from 30 metres out.
The Reds actually had more possession than the Bulls in the first half, but the home side put in some tremendous hits as their aggressive defence continually pushed the Queenslanders back. Five minutes before the break, Hougaard stole the ball from prop James Slipper and was off for a 60-metre try that gave the Bulls a commanding 24-5 halftime lead.
The home side went into their shells a bit at the start of the second half and the Reds never hid their belief they could get back into the contest. And they did just that with two tries in three minutes closing the gap to 24-17.
Scrumhalf Will Genia was the spark as he scampered over from 20 metres out with a lovely run off a scrum and then placed a lovely dab through with the boot for Frisby to dash on to and score. The Reds had been put on attack by a powerful run by outside centre Samu Kerevi, and the 21-year-old Fijian then set up the visitors’ bonus-point try in the 59th minute with a breathtaking burst from his own 10-metre line. He powered on to a pop pass and then through half-a-dozen defenders before being stopped by Kriel just short of the line, replacement lock Marco Kotze being on hand to pick up and score.
But by then the Bulls had secured their own bonus-point try, replacement prop Marcel van der Merwe driving strongly off a rolling maul to score, eighthman Adam Thomson having just been yellow-carded for collapsing the previous maul.
It was a telling moment and, despite Kerevi’s magic, the Reds faded away at the end and conceded two more tries.
First Burger Odendaal produced an exceptional run from 30 metres out to power over the line and then another exciting run by Hougaard was stopped just short of the line, replacement scrumhalf Piet van Zyl then throwing a dummy and ducking over to score.
If Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has a natter with Frans Ludeke over the phone on Sunday then the Bulls coach can report back on a strong showing by Hougaard on the wing, another fine performance from tighthead prop Trevor Nyakane, and the continued growth of an exciting talent in Kriel.
But it was also pleasing to see loosehead prop Dean Greyling put in a number of massive hits and Spies did numerous good things around the park.
Bulls – Tries: Francois Hougaard (2), Pierre Spies, Marcel van der Merwe, Burger Odendaal, Piet van Zyl. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3), Tian Schoeman (2). Penalty: Potgieter.
Reds – Tries: Lachie Turner, Will Genia, Nick Frisby, Marco Kotze. Conversion: Turner.