Bulls simply too good
The Bulls overcame some blatant thuggery to score a deserved 35-18 win over the Highlanders in a spiteful match in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls overcame some blatant thuggery to score a deserved 35-18 win over the Highlanders in a spiteful match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Although the Bulls had to wait till the final 10 minutes of the match to get their four-try bonus point, the result was never in doubt against the Highlanders team that can regard themselves as fortunate to have had only two players sent to the sin bin.
The result means the Bulls have cemented their place at the top of the South African conference and moved to second on the global standings.
You have seen and heard of the 'game that had everything'.
This game at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday was not that game.
Oh, it was not a game that had nothing - not quite. It had poor handling, it had uncontested scrums, it had two yellow cards, it had 24 penalties and just before the end the Bulls scored a try that got them a bonus point, but they made heavy weather of it.
The Highlanders got both yellow cards. That meant that the Bulls played against 14 men for half the second half.
And uncontested scrums made the Highlanders' lot less burdensome.
The handling in the match really was poor - by both sides. Passes went along the ground, passes went too high, passes went straight into touch, the ball was dropped and the ball was lost in contact. It was poor. Some of the poor handling started with the erratic scrumhalf passing. Taking steps to pass cannibalises backs' space.
The Bulls are ruling the South African roost but there was a sparce crowd to watch their men - 21 424. Perhaps it was because their opponents are the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps it is because the interest in Super Rugby is waning.
The Bulls kicked off and won the ball back immediately, thanks largely to the energies of Chiliboy Ralepelle. They went through phases, Jürgen Visser was close and then Francois Hougaard bounced a pass out to the left where JJ Engelbrecht picked it up and scored. Inside two minutes the Bulls led 7-0. Perhaps they then played in the relaxed belief that victory was inevitable with all its trimmings.
But Deon Stegmann was penalised at a tackle and Frik Kirsten at a scrum and the score was 7-6 after 14 minutes. Then two penalties by Morné Steyn, one for a line-out infringement by Jamie Macintosh and one against Colin Slade at a tackle. 16-6 after 27 minutes.
Then just when they had their best attacking possibility, disaster struck the Highlanders.
They went through phases battling closer and closer to the Bulls' line when they went wide left. Aaron Smith, not for any pressure, threw an awful, dipping pass to Brad Thorn who dived to get it and popped it to Ben Smith but Dewald Potgieter intercepted and with nous enough started running eight metres or so from his line.
He gave to Engelbrecht who dropped an ugly pass to Akona Ndungane who grabbed it on the 22 and raced down the field to the Highlanders' line. The referee asked the TMO to examine the handling in the passage of play leading up to the try. The TMO did so, concentrating on the pass from Engelbrecht towards Ndungane.
The TMO reported that he did not have clear and obvious evidence that Engelbrecht's hands passed the ball forward, and so the try stood - 23-6 after 37 minutes, the half-time score.
For the second half the Highlanders made four changes as Liam Coltman, Tony Woodcock, TJ Ioane and Jason Emery came on.
The Bulls opted to kick out for a five-metre line-out when Ioane was penalised. They formed a maul and then gave to Pierre Spies on the right and in his 100th Super Rugby match for the Bulls since his debut in 2005 as a 19-year-old Pierre spies charged through Mose Tuiali'i to score. 30-6 after 46 minutes.
Tino Nemani tackled Lionel Mapoe high and was sent to the win bin. The Bulls did another penalty-lineout-maul routine and Jan Serfontein was over at the posts but the TMO advised that he had infringed in the tackle and was penalised. As Nemani returned Chris King passed him on the way to the sin bin for a tackle infringement. This brought Hore back onto the field but the Highlanders felt they did not have the prop personnel for contested scrums and the next eight scrums were uncontested,
King came back from the sin bin but damaged a shoulder in a tackle and went back off with Hore returning.
During the last 10 minutes of the match, the Highlanders' ran and ran. Their running brought them close to the Bulls' line where Fumiaki Tanaka nipped inside Callie Visagie to score near the posts. 30-13 after 73 minutes.
The Bulls had an attacking line-out and mauled. Suddenly Jano Vermaak broke away from the maul and raced over in the left corner for a try, just when it seemed the home side had blown the chance of a bonus point. 35-13 after 77 minutes.
The siren had gone when Tamati Ellison got past the weakest of Bulls' tackling to score in the left corner. 35-18.
Man of the Match: Jan Serfontein, Pierre Spies and Chiliboy Ralepelle deserve recognition for their energy and so does our Man of the Match Dewald Potgieter.
For the Bulls:
Tries: Engelbrecht, Ndungane, Spies, Vermaak
Cons: Steyn 3
Pens: Steyn 3
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Tanaka, Ellison
Pens: Slade 2
Yellow cards: Tino Nemani (Highlanders, 48 - foul play, head shot), Chris King (Highlanders, 56 - foul play, collapsing maul)
Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Bjorn Basson.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Tino Nemani, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Jason Emery.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Attie Buitendag (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)