Bulls make history in Auckland
Bulls make history in AucklandSHARE
The Bulls recorded their first ever win at Eden Park in Auckland when they beat the Blues 28-21 in an intriguing and entertaining encounter on Sunday.
Playing in bright sunshine the Bulls outscored the home team by three tries to two, to move back to the top of the South African conference and into the top two on the global standings.
And the Bulls are now one of just three outfits still unbeaten – with the table-topping Brumbies, the Bulls and fellow South Africans, the Sharks, all having won their first three matches.
It was a rare weekend for South Africa, with a clean sweep of wins over New Zealand rivals – the Cheetahs smashing the Highlanders in Invercargill, the Stormers edging the Chiefs in Cape Town and the Bulls winning in Auckland.
Blues coach John Kirwan named a much-changed side, including six new caps, for the Eden Park match after his team had unexpectedly won their first two matches.
The tactic failed and the Blues were outplayed by the Bulls – who produced a fast-paced style in warm, dry conditions.
Bulls captain Pierre Spies described it as a "special effort" from the team.
With Spies leading from the front, the visitors not only outmuscled the Blues, but also executed their kicking game to near perfection.
The home team struggled to deal with the numerous high bombs and when the Bulls' hard-running forward got their hands on the ball the Blues' defensive lines also came under pressure.
The set pieces were a bit of a lottery at times, but on the whole the Bulls also shaded this aspect of the game.
Two early Baden Kerr penalties, interspersed by a Morné Steyn three-pointer, saw the Blues take the lead.
However, the Bulls' forwards soon unsettled their opponents with their physicality and at the end of the first quarter Lionel Mapoe got the first five-pointer of the match, as the Bulls took it wide after a few strong phases that sucked in the Blues' defenders. Steyn added the conversion for a 10-6 lead.
And just minutes later Akona Ndungane got the Bulls' second try, as a charge-down gave the Bulls a chance and they took it superbly. Steyn couldn't add the extras – 15-6.
For the rest of the first half the Blues scrambled on defence and managed to save another try with some desperate work near their line – the Bulls leading by nine points at the break.
Baden Kerr also got the second-half scoring underway, slotting a penalty from in front – 9-15.
Then the Blues started to find their rhythm, as the Bulls dropped of the pace a bit, with Charles Piutau going over to get the home team's first try. The Blues finally got some front foot ball and took the it through the hands. Baden Kerr added the extras as the Blues hit the lead – 16-15.
However, the Bulls hit back in the most emphatic fashion – loose forward Arno Botha going over for the Bulls' third try, after Ndungane cut through on a great angled run. Morné Steyn added the conversion and the visitors lead 22-16 – an advantage they never conceded.
Steyn slotted a penalty as the game moved into the final quarter and at 25-16 it was a long way back for the Blues.
They tried hard and with three minutes remaining Rene Ranger made the Bulls pay for a momentary lapse on defence, as he ran through and over an opponent, when Bulls' defensive line became fractured. However, the conversion was wide – leaving the home team needing another try.
In their desperation they were forced into touch inside their 22 and when Ali Williams brought down a fast-moving Bulls maul Steyn put the final nail in the home team's coffin – a 28-21 win for the Bulls.
Man of the match: Rene Ranger showed just how dangerous he can be when given space, while Ali Williams was a constant menace to the Bulls – especially in stopping their mauls – even though not all of his sacks were legal. Akona Ndungane, Morné Steyn – despite his mid-game kicking wobbles – Jano Vermaak, Flip van der Merwe, Juandré Kruger and Arno Botha all made an impression on the game. However, our award goes to Bulls captain Pierre Spies – who was huge on defence, carried strongly and had a game-changing run with 15 minutes to go. He darted 60 metres downfield, breaking from a scrum about 10 metres away from his own line. The result, after an off-load to Jano Vermaak and chip by the scrumhalf, was a Bulls scrum five metres from the Blues line. It epitomised the Bulls' determination to come back hard at the Blues every time the Kiwis threatened.
For the Blues:
Tries: Piutau, Ranger
Pens: Kerr 3
For the Bulls:
Tries: Mapoe, Ndungane, Botha
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 3
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Kane Barrett, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ronald Raaymakers, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 Albert Nikoro.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Morné Mellett.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Francois Hougaard, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Jürgen Visser.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)