The Hurricanes scored five tries in their 34-20 bonus-point win against the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
It says a lot for the Bulls' season that they can lose by 14 points at home and regard it as a much-improved performance. That it was, compared to their humiliating defeats to the Crusaders and Lions, but they still never looked like upsetting the champions, who were without star flyhalf Beauden Barrett, a late withdrawal just before kick-off.
The Bulls had 56% of the possession, but could only convert it to two tries, while their defensive frailties were again exposed, especially in the first half.
The Hurricanes weren't at their best, but will be satisfied with the five log points that take them back into second spot in the New Zealand conference, three ahead of the Chiefs.
It took the Canes only a minute and a half into this match to score their first try. Good handling by Loni Uhila put Jordie Barrett through a gap, he then handed off a poor tackle from Tiaan Schoeman, and sold Warrick Gelant a dummy on his way to the line.
The Bulls hit back soon after when Jan Serfontein's chip-kick was regathered by Duncan Matthews. The winger passed to Burger Odendaal, received the ball again and raced away to score.
But more poor defence from the hosts allowed the Hurricanes regain the lead at the end of the first quarter. The visitors sent the ball wide from a lineout near halfway, and Schoeman did his best not to tackle Ngani Laumape, who then beat Matthews, the last defender.
Two penalties from Schoeman reduced the deficit to just one, but he missed with another attempt in the 33rd minute. The Canes then scored their third try from turnover ball inside the Bulls 22, with a skip pass from Brad Shields putting Wes Goosen over in the right-hand corner.
The Bulls lost possession again in what appeared to be the last play of the half, but instead of kicking the ball out, the visitors worked their way into opposition territory, and twice opted to put a penalty into touch. Eventually, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Mark Abbott finished off another attack to make it 24-13.
The Hurricanes started the second half strongly, but the Bulls did well to hold Julian Savea up over the tryline and then force a turnover from a 5m scrum in front of the sticks.
The Kiwis had to wait until the 58th minute to add to their tally, when Black kicked a penalty, but that was followed shortly after by a try to Leni Apisai, who was put away by Savea's inside pass.
The Bulls dominated possession in the final quarter and were rewarded in the 75th minute when Nic de Jager scored their second try. But the Canes were able to prevent the hosts from getting another that would have taken away their bonus point.
Bulls – Tries: Duncan Matthews, Nic de Jager. Conversions: Tiaan Schoeman (2). Penalties: Schoeman (2).
Hurricanes – Tries: Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen, Mark Abbott, Leni Apisai. Conversions: Otere Black (3). Penalty: Black.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jesse Kriel, 10 Tiaan Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Coenraad van Vuuren, 19 Abongile Nonkontwana, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Loni Uhila.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Cory Jane, Ben Lam 23.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images