Flyhalf Chris Smith kicked 15 points as the Vodacom Bulls ran in six tries for an emphatic United Rugby Championship victory against Zebre in Parma.
The Bulls’ first win in Italy won’t ease the pain of having lost the Rainbow Cup final against Benetton in Treviso last year, but improving to 4-6 on the season with a 45-7 win in Parma is a positive response to their recent home loss against the Sharks.
Smith was perfect, kicking six conversions and one penalty as the Bulls won the collisions and controlled the field for a higher volume of scoring opportunities.
The Bulls will rightfully be chuffed with the result but the margin of victory belies a sometimes mediocre performance. Isolated runners and slow reaction to clean made a mess of the Bulls’ attacking breakdown and they repeatedly made the hole deeper by shovelling poor passes to stationary receivers, all of which boosted the Zebre defence.
Spurts of efficient scrumming alleviated some of the pressure by parachuting the Bulls downfield, but questionable lineout management escaped Zebre from consequences on more than one occasion.
In the end, the sheer superiority of individual quality gave the Bulls a clear edge and last-placed Zebre slumped to their 20th consecutive defeat.
After a slow and scoreless first quarter pockmarked with errors, the Bulls lost their captain when Welsh referee Adam Jones sent Marcell Coetzee to the naughty chair for a rugby collision with Zebre wing Jacopo Trulla.
The hosts immediately took advantage and flyhalf Antonio Rizzi stepped inside Madosh Tambwe to score and convert the opening try.
The Bulls replied with a series of narrow and direct carries to run the clock and extract a penalty from the Zebre defence which Chris Smith duly slotted to make it 7-3 near the half-hour mark.
And then the Italians started to run out of ammunition.
The Bulls powered into the lead with two tries in quick succession. First, hooker Johan Grobbelaar converted a red zone lineout drive before Smith added the extras from the edge of the field with a superb kick.
And then Kurt-Lee Arendse launched a counter-attack on receipt of a skewed hack from Rizzi, and it was the Bulls fullback with the try assist to scrumhalf Embrose Papier for a 17-7 lead at the break.
The start of the second half emulated the opening exchanges as miscues robbed the contest of any flow, but Coetzee put the scoreboard operator back to work after Smith somehow converted back-foot ball into a linebreak and then chipped the conversion to make it 24-7.
The third quarter ended with flanker Arno Botha rumbling across the line from a five-metre scrum to secure the bonus point, and two minutes later Lionel Mapoe raced through a gaping hole in the Zebre line for a 38-7 lead.
Arendse pocketed a chicken-wing pass from Elrigh Louw on the right flank and then went in-out-in to put Rizzi on his knees as the Bulls fullback scored in the corner and Smith again split the sticks from the touchline for the win.
— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) February 25, 2022
What a try for @Vodacom Bulls scrumhalf Embrose Papier in an exciting first half in the @URCOfficial_RSA against Zebre Parma where they hold a 17-7 halftime lead @BlueBullsRugby pic.twitter.com/dOFJnVzjU9
— Springboks (@Springboks) February 25, 2022