The Bulls kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 50-3 bonus-point win against the Sunwolves at Loftus on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The five log points briefly took the Bulls past the Sharks into the South African group's qualifying playoff berth, but the latter then picked up four log points against the Cheetahs in Durban. The Sharks now only need to beat the Sunwolves at home next weekend to qualify for the quarter-finals at the expense of the Bulls, who will face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
The Bulls will be pleased with Saturday's result at Loftus, but disappointed that they weren't able to hammer it home after leading 36-3 early in the second half.
Coach Nollis Marais made several changes to his team after their poor performance against the Jaguares, which paid off. Jesse Kriel was far more influential at fullback than he has been recently at outside centre, while the midfield combination of Dries Swanepoel and Burger Odendaal worked well and Piet van Zyl posed an attacking threat at scrumhalf. Adriaan Strauss (who was rested last weekend) and Renaldo Bothma gave the forwards more punch.
The Sunwolves played with heart and deserve credit for being so competitive in the second half when they could easily have capitulated. But their defensive effort just wasn't good enough, with 22 tackles missed.
The Bulls started the match strongly, twice coming close to scoring a try only for the Sunwolves to keep the ball up and force the turnover.
But the Japanese franchise was forced to make a whopping 30 tackles in the first 10 minutes and eventually their defence cracked, with Jamba Ulengo getting past four defenders and putting Lappies Labuschagne over for a converted try.
Yu Tamura and Francois Brummer then exchanged penalties, before a poor kick from the Sunwolves allowed the Bulls to counter-attack. Van Zyl took play from near his 22 up to the Sunwolves' 22, and a one-handed offload from Labuschagne resulted in a try for Swanepoel under the sticks.
The Bulls' third try came six minutes later when, after the Bulls forwards had bashed away at the defence, Kirsten picked up the ball from the back of a ruck and barged over.
The Sunwolves then gifted the Bulls another seven points when they tried to run the ball out of their 22. A pass failed to go to hand, with Brummer kicking the loose ball ahead and collecting it to score a try that made it 31-3.
The visitors produced their best passage of play just before half-time, but Keita Inagaki was bundled into touch in the right-hand corner by two defenders.
It took the Bulls less than three minutes of the second half to extend their lead when Strauss reached over to place the ball on the tryline having been brought to ground just short of it.
To their credit, the Sunwolves went on to dominate the next 10 minutes of play. However, they were unable to get that elusive try, being held up over the line on one occasion and then knocking on with the line in sight on another.
The Bulls emptied their bench at the end of the third quarter, with the Sunwolves continuing to enjoy their fair share of possession and territory.
The hosts had to wait until the 72nd minute to add to their tally when Travis Ismaiel scored in the right-hand corner. The winger then ran 60m for his second after SP Marais had broken away from inside his 22 to get the Bulls to 50.
Bulls – Tries: Lappies Labuschagne, Dries Swanepoel, Jannes Kirsten, Francois Brummer, Adriaan Strauss, Travis Ismaiel (2). Conversions: Brummer (4), Tian Schoeman (2). Penalty: Brummer.
Sunwolves – Penalty: Yu Tamura.
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Nqoba Mxoli, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Grant Hattingh, 21 Arno Botha, 22 Rudy Paige, 23 Tian Schoeman.
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Hajime Yamashita, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa (c),11 Yasutaka Sasakura,10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Taiyo Ando, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Naohiro Kotaki, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Futoshi Mori, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Faatiga Lemalu, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Mifiposeti Paea, 23 Shokei Kin.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images