The Bulls claimed a well-deserved 21-19 win against the Hurricanes in Pretoria on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Only 9,506 fans attended this match, but crowd attendances are sure to improve at Loftus in the weeks ahead if John Mitchell’s team continues to play like this.
The Bulls did the basics well, stuck to their structures and looked like a team that had a plan. They were physical in contact, but displayed handling skills, running lines and guts that were absent last season. Their scrum was also much-improved from 2017 (they didn’t lose any of their put-ins, while the Canes lost three of theirs) and their defence good (89% tackle completion rate).
This result will give them huge belief going into next weekend’s match against the Lions at Loftus and for the season ahead.
The Bulls made an impressive start to a match that few believed they could win. After a patient build-up, which included a half-break by captain Burger Odendaal, Jesse Kriel’s one-handed pass in the tackle drew Julian Savea and Ihaia West, while putting Johnny Kotze over in the left-hand corner. Handré Pollard missed the conversion but slotted a penalty soon after to make it 8-0 after six minutes.
The Hurricanes quickly got into the game, though, with Vaea Fifita beating two defenders, including Pollard, during a storming run. The Bulls flyhalf looked to have hurt himself, but fortunately for the hosts, it wasn’t serious. The Canes then won a penalty, which they kicked to touch, and Ricky Riccitelli went over from the lineout driving maul.
The visitors struck again when Wes Goosen scored after a chip and chase, with Kotze nowhere to be seen. This time, Ihaia West added the extras to make it 12-8.
Man of the match RG Snyman got the Bulls back on the front foot when he burst through the tackle of Toby Smith and handed off to TJ Perenara, but his run ended with an ambitious back-flip that failed to find Odendaal. Pierre Schoeman was then yellow-carded for a swinging arm at the subsequent ruck.
The Bulls thought they had scored a try while down to 14 men, with a nine-phase attack ending with Snyman going over from a ruck. But the TMO ruled there had been a knock-on from Frans van Wyk just beforehand when it appeared the ball may have gone straight down.
However, the hosts did get over in the 33rd minute when Snyman broke through two tackles and put second-row partner Lood de Jager away. The Bok timed his dive perfectly to score in the left-hand corner. Pollard missed the conversion but added a penalty just before half-time to put his side ahead 16-12.
The Hurricanes signalled their intentions early in the second half when they kicked for touch, instead of at goal, on three occasions. Twice, they conceded penalties and on the third occasion, Perenara knocked on while attempting to ground the ball over the tryline. That was according to the officials, at least. The Canes will argue that there was, in fact, some downward pressure from the scrumhalf.
But the Canes did take the lead, in the 59th minute, when replacement Beauden Barrett chased down Perenara’s kick soon after coming onto the field.
The Bulls responded with what would be the match-winning try, with nine minutes to go. Barrett switched with Perenara, but the scrumhalf’s kick was charged down by Pollard, who regathered the ball and kicked ahead. The hosts then drove the Canes off the ruck deep inside their 22 and sent the ball wide to Pierre Schoeman, who scored a try that had the small crowd on their feet. With Pollard injured, Marnitz Boshoff attempted the conversion, and missed.
It didn’t matter, though, as the Bulls finished the match inside Canes’ territory and went on to celebrate a morale-boosting win.
Bulls – Tries: Johnny Kotze, Lood de Jager, Pierre Schoeman. Penalties: Handré Pollard (2).
Hurricanes – Tries: Ricky Riccitelli, Wes Goosen, Beauden Barrett. Conversions: Ihaia West (2).
Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 André Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Duncan Matthews.
Hurricanes – 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Ihaia West, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ben Lam.
Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images