Bonus-point win at Loftus
The Bulls moved to the top of the South African conference with a 36-26 win over the Western Force in Pretoria on Saturday.
It was by no means a classic performance from the home team, but the Bulls stuck to their guns despite the obvious negative tactics of a Force team intent on spoiling rather than entertaining.
Their approach was understandable.
Written off after their drab defeat in Port Elizabeth last week, the Force were a different kettle of fish this week and at one stage it seemed that they would produce a massive upset against the Bulls in Pretoria.
They were full of determination - not always legal though.
The Bulls on the other hand seemed content to wait and let victory happen till they were trailing in the last 10 minutes and suddenly lifted themselves, returning to their strength, physical, rampaging forwards till a try in injury time gave them the bonus point they had been expected to get.
It may, of course, be the speed of their opening try that lulled them into overconfidence. After all it took just 1 minute 14 seconds for them to score it and then the scorer was Morné Steyn.
But how the Force tackled and they took every chance they had to score - two dropped goals by Bloemfonteiner Sias Ebersohn, an intercept try and a try set up by outwitting the sluggish Bulls at the line-out. The Force won five turnovers at tackles to nil by the Bulls. The Bulls set mauls and the Force flung themselves at them, blunting the Bulls' best weapon but then after five penalties against them the referee warned them of a sin-binning, they behaved and the Bulls scored.
Pretoria was wet and that may have explained the first half, a dull affair in which both sides kicked whenever they had room to do so. There was a try at the start of the half, a bewildering run by debutant Sampie Mastriet and a great run by Bjorn Basson when the try was denied for a forward pass detected by the TMO. But none of those three incidents encouraged running.
The Bulls kicked off, the Force kicked out and the Bulls won the line-out. Lionel Mapoe was nearly through and then there was Steyn racing 39 metres to score a try in the right corner. 5-0 after 1 minute 14 seconds.
Then the kicking broke out. Mastriet had an electric run and then kicking went on. Ebersohn dropped a goal, Steyn kicked a penalty, Ebersohn kicked two penalties and Steyn kicked a second penalty. 11-9 after 32 minutes.
The Bulls played flat and Zane Kirchner gave Basson a short pass for an overlap and off Basson went to go over some 50 metres later but the referee asked the TMO about the two passes and the TMO reported that Mapoe's pass to Kirchner had been forward. Big disappointment.
When Richard Brown became the fourth Force player penalised for illegality at a maul, Steyn goaled. 14-9 and that was the half-time score.
The Bulls made two changes for the second half. Jano Vermaak took over from Francois Hougaard and Willie Wepener from Chiliboy Ralepelle who had hurt a leg.
The Force scored first when Ebersohn dropped his second goal (14-12 after 41 minutes) and then Mastriet scored a wonderful try on a bit of an overlap when he beat Nick Cummins and kept going from Kyle Godwin to score in the right corner. 19-12 after 42 minutes.
Vermaak made back play difficult with his twostep before passing. He did a twostep and then Steyn threw a skip pass and Angus Cottrell ran 51 empty metres to score at the posts. Ebersohn converted and the score was 19-all after 46 minutes.
Tow penalties set the Bulls mauling and bashing from line-outs but they were penalised and the Force got out. From the line-out a clever bit of interplay between Nathan Charles and Brown saw Charles running a long way down the right. He kicked ahead and the Force were attacking. Chris Alcock broke a week tackle and they bashed at the line. Alcock got right to the line where Toby Lynn snatched up the ball and put it on the line. Again Ebersohn converted, and the Force led 26-19 after 56 minutes and the small crowd in the ground was numbed.
Alcock was penalised at a tackle and Steyn made it 26-22 with 12 minutes to go. This was the Bulls' most convincing part of the match. Cummins and Ben McCalman were penalised at a maul and the Force were warned against further illegalities. Steyn kicked out and from the line-out the Bulls ran the maul 20 metres for the try, credited to blond Jean Cook who was at the tail. Steyn converted and the Bulls led 29-26 with 8 minutes to play.
Back they came in search of a bonus point. They mauled again from a line-out and Mastriet, Werner Kruger and Louis Fouché were close. A penalty gave them a five-metre maul but it came apart and Wepener knocked on. Alby Mathewson threw the ball into the scrum on a straight path to the No.8's feet and the Force were freekicked. The Bulls tapped and bashed with Arno Botha most effective till Werner Kruger surfed over at the posts, three minutes into injury time.
Man of the Match: Arno Botha of the Bulls' who should have been brought into the game more, for he was the most effective forward on the field.
For the Bulls:
Tries: Steyn, Mastriet, Cook, Kruger
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 4
For the Western Force:
Tries: Cottrell, Lynn
Cons: Ebersohn 2
Pens: Ebersohn 2
DG: Ebersohn 2
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morné Mellet.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Jan Serfontein.
Western Force: 15 Will Tupou, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Winston Stanley, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Alfie Mafi, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Ben McCalman, 20 Chris Alcock, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)