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Bulls strangle Blues at Loftus

Sat, 08 Mar 2014 17:00
Bulls-v-blues
Bonus-point win in Pretoria
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The Bulls continued their match up the Super Rugby table with a 38-22 win over the Blues at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The four tries to one win was the result of some strangling defence and superior forward power.

However, there was also some fine inventive play by a Bulls team clearly in the process of evolving.

There was a late change to the Blues team - with veteran All Black Kevin Mealamu pulling out with a 'low grade' calf strain.

The enormous amount of rain the past week made for some slippery conditions - which made scrumming more complicated than it should have been and requiring far more concentration when handling the ball.

It resulted in a large number of lost opportunities, as balls ended up on the grass instead of sticking to hands.

While the Bulls still preferred their more direct approach, a runner and a supporter drawing in defenders by engaging in contact, the Blues were mostly off-loading before the tackle.

The Bulls defence looked comfortable in dealing with the lateral play of the visitors, while they even became a little more expansive as the game wore on.

In fact it was from their smothering defence that they created most of their scoring opportunities.

However, the biggest problem for the home team was that they sometimes lacked the patience, coughing up the ball close to the line on a number of occasions.

The first score - a try to flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter - came after the Bulls won a heel against the head at a scrum five metres out. Francois Hougaard off-loaded to Potgieter, who produced a great show-'n-go. Potgieter added the conversion - 7-0.

The restart resulted in a penalty, for obstruction, against the Bulls - Simon Hickey slotting it to narrow the gap to 3-7.

Almost immediately from the restart the Bulls regained possession, with Potgieter slotting a drop-goal, to make it 10-3; Hickey continued the one-for-you-one-for-me kicking game, the Bulls penalised at a tackle - 6-10; Potgieter kicking a penalty after a scrum penalty to make it 13-6 at the end of the first quarter; and Hickey was again next to score, Jacques du Plessis penalised for advancing ahead of the kicker - 9-13.

Jono Ross scored the Bulls' second try, when the Blues failed to control possession after a turnover just outside their 22. Ross toed ahead and followed up to stroll over. Potgieter's conversion made it 20-9.

Hickey kicked his fourth penalty, after Deon Stegmann was penalised on the ground, to make it 12-20 just on the half-hour mark.

However, the Bulls finished the first half in fine attacking form - captain Flip van der Merwe prominent in a great team try, as they took the ball through numerous phases, till Jan Serfontein found a hole in the Blues' defence near the right corner. The conversion was wide, but the Bulls took a commanding 25-12 lead into the break.

The Bulls made the early running in the second half, going close to a try, before Potgieter slotted a penalty - the result of the pressure forcing the deliberate killing of the ball close to their line.

However, unable to land the knock-out blow, it was a moment of good fortune that got the Blues back in the game. After a grubber bounced forward off the shoulder of George Moala, Pita Ahki followed up to dot down the ball. The TMO had several looks before the referee awarded the try. Hickey's conversion made it 19-28, going into the final quarter.

Hickey made it a one-score game when he landed his fifth penalty - after Piet van Zyl went offside - making it 22-28.

Potgieter had a chance to stretch the lead with 15 minutes left on the clock, but he hooked it past the left upright. However, three minutes later he slotted a penalty to make it 31-22.

It was now the turn of the Bulls defence to show its value - repelling numerous Blues raids in the final 10 minutes.

With under a minute left the Bulls got their bonus-point try - prop Marcell van der Merwe going over from close range. The TMO was not convinced, but referee Andrew Lees was happy the player's momentum carried him over and it was not the prop propelling himself.

The conversion by Handré Pollard made it a 38-22 win.

Man of the match: Luke Braid, at times, was like a one-man band against the Bulls' masses, while flyhalf Simon Hickey belied his age with a mature performance. The 100-cap Akona Ndungane looked every bit as enthusiastic as the player that made his debut a decade ago. Francois Hougaard is beginning to settle down nicely in the scrumhalf role. Deon Stegmann brought the balance the Bulls loose forwards lacked and made a huge impact. Victor Matfield looked he is regaining the form that once made him the world's best lock. Flip van der Merwe left his mark in all aspects of the game - especially in open play. However, our award goes to Bulls flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter was again the conductor that directed the orchestra.

The scorers:

For the Bulls:
Tries:
Potgieter, Ross, Serfontein, Van der Merwe
Cons: Potgieter 2, Pollard
Pens: Potgieter 3
DG: Potgieter

For the Blues:
Try:
Ahki
Con: Hickey
Pens: Hickey 5

Teams:

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe (captain), 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Chris Noakes, 23 Pita Ahki.

Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

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