The Bulls powered into an early lead and then held on for the bonus-point win against the never-say-die Pumas in a Currie Cup match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
Smarting from last week’s disappointing double-header – having lost against Western Province in Pretoria on the same day that the ‘A’ team was thrashed by Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final in Treviso – the Bulls secured their first win of the Currie Cup season, rebounding with a four-try, 32-27 victory against the Pumas
The Bulls flexed at scrum time and launched their kicking game to establish decisive air superiority in the first half which negated a spirited fightback from the Pumas, who won the final 40 by a margin of 24-15.
Springboks Cornal Hendricks and No 8 Marcell Coetzee carried prominently for the hosts, supported by the tactical exploits of halfbacks Ivan van Zyl and Chris Smith and fullbacks Gio Aplon and David Kriel.
For the Pumas, flyhalf Ed Fouche scored 17 points while the left boot of fullback Devon Williams challenged the Bulls for field position and No 8 Willie Engelbrecht challenged them in the trenches.
Though it was the visitors who successfully pinned the Bulls in their back yard during the early exchanges to score first through a Fouche penalty, the hosts reversed the field from the ensuing kickoff, baited the Pumas into feeding their counter-attack plans and Harold Vorster marked his Bulls debut with a chip and collect to put them into a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
Smith made it 10-3 near the half-hour mark and, despite the Pumas exposing the Bulls’ attacking breakdown with a few testy counter-shoves, the home team’s tactical decision-makers assumed complete control of the contest.
Unfortunately, one of those tacticians was carried off the field early in the second half when Aplon suffered an ankle injury in what is potentially a big blow to the Bulls’ Currie Cup title defence plans.
Kriel resumed service at the back and the Bulls continued to dictate field position. The Pumas attempted to break out by pushing the tempo, but a quick throw-in by fullback Devon Williams only tightened the Bulls’ stranglehold when they again won the kick tennis and winger Madosh Tambwe rocketed up the right touchline for a try for a 17-3 halftime advantage.
Tempo was the source of the first try in the second half, though this time it was the Bulls who paid the price for trying to speed up the game and keep the ball alive when Pumas finisher Etienne Taljaard capped off an impressive, metre-eating, multi-phase turnover attack to bring the visitors within seven points.
Smith kicked another penalty before Hendricks converted an attacking lineout, spinning out of a tackle to dive across the line for the Bulls’ third try. But the Pumas responded with two quick tries to set the final quarter up for a thrilling finish as Fouche chipped an collected a loose ball to score under the uprights before the visitors struck from a left-hand scrum on half, with Williams cutting the line to send flyer Tapiwa Mafura over for a try that Fouche converted to make it 25-24 with 14 minutes to play.
Kriel capped off a scrum strike to extend the lead to eight points after a dominant carry off the base by Coetzee. The explosive No 8 was penalised for hands in the ruck and Fouche slotted his second penalty with five minutes remaining, but the Bulls won a late penalty to clinch their first win of the campaign.