The Vodacom Bulls sauntered to a 41-22 victory over the Reds in their SuperRugby match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday night, but it was a win that was lacking bling and did not earn a bonus point for the home side.
The Reds came roaring out of the blocks as they turned over the first Bulls scrum and a superb backline move in which Eto Nabuli came off his wing, fullback Karmichael Hunt did great work and then Chris Feauai-Sautia went streaking down the right wing, led to the first try in the fifth minute.
But the Reds found their way blocked for most of the rest of the game as the Bulls settled in the scrum, dominated the lineouts and simply put up a blue wall that the opposition could not get through. Given such a forward platform, the backs had plenty of ball to play with and, although they produced some lovely touches, the finishing was often dire due to poor passing, over-running the ball, not passing when they should have, not taking the gap when it was on or lacking vision.
The Bulls did manage to get on the board in the 20th minute when the Reds were penalised for playing the man in the air at the lineout, with Brummer slotting the kick.
The first Bulls try came in the 32nd minute after the scrum had earned a penalty. From the lineout, outside centre Jesse Kriel stepped his way through the gap and, from a ruck under the poles, tighthead prop Marcel van der Merwe picked up the ball and burrowed over the line.
Young locks Jason Jenkins and RG Snyman are forming a formidable partnership for the Bulls and they played impressive roles as the Bulls swept back on to the attack from the kickoff and, after a series of strong drives from the forwards, Jenkins being stopped just short of the line, hooker Adriaan Strauss picked the ball up out of the ruck and dived over to score his team’s second try.
As the halftime hooter went, with the Reds stuck on five points for 35 minutes, flank Liam Gill casually slotted a 30-metre drop goal to end the first half on a rather outrageous note.
Jenkins was again to the fore in the 46th minute as he and Strauss caught the Reds in possession with great defence, leading to an offsides penalty, converted by the reliable Brummer (20-8).
But the main interest, given how firmly in control they looked, was whether the Bulls backline could click.
The initial signs were highly promising as, from a lineout, centre Jan Serfontein’s deft chip over the defence was gathered by his midfield partner Kriel, who produced a lovely offload inside for Brummer, who quickly sent flank Lappies Labuschagne racing away for the line.
The Reds looked down and out at 27-8 down, but they began to get some possession in the right areas thanks to some great touchfinders by Jake McIntyre and Hunt. The Reds managed to take a lineout off the Bulls in the 53rd minute, which was the only throw the home side lost, spreading the ball wide to outside centre Samu Kerevi, who cut back inside on a powerful run which took him straight over the tryline.
McIntyre converted and the Reds trailed 15-27, which became 22-27 just six minutes later as Kerevi scored again, taking the direct route to the tryline after the wonderful hands of midfield partner Anthony Fainga’a had put him away.
But Travis Ismaiel, who drifted outside his marker Hunt, and raced away down the right wing after fullback SP Marais had found him with a long pass, ensured that the Bulls would have some breathing space heading into the closing stages as his try gave them a 34-22 lead after Brummer’s conversion.
The Bulls would have the final say as replacement scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, who has been getting decent game time as Paige has not been at his best, was able to dive over for a try to round off concerted pressure by the home side.
The Bulls’ attacking intent has been slowly evolving and there was plenty of endeavour at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night, but the execution was often lacking.
But coach Nollis Marais has identified some young talents that undoubtedly have bright futures. Snyman and Jenkins are building an outstanding second row partnership, while Jannes Kirsten has been phenomenally consistent as a tough-as-nails flank.
Despite the disappointment of missing out on the bonus point, the Bulls are still level-pegging with the Stormers and Lions, and are looking good for at least a conference wildcard given how the Sharks are currently struggling.
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Lappies Labuschagne, Travis Ismaiel, Piet van Zyl.Conversions: Francois Brummer (5). Penalties: Brummer (2).
Reds – Tries: Chris Feauai-Sautia, Samu Kerevi (2). Conversions: Jake McIntyre (2). Drop goal: Liam Gill.