Bulls take five valuable points...just
The Vodacom Bulls went to the top of the South African conference with an entertaining, if not always convincing 41-35 win over the Melbourne Rebels at the AAMI Stadium in Melbourne on Friday.
In a game that produced eight tries in the first half, and ten in total, the Bulls did well to come out on the right side of the scoreline, especially as their defence offered so many questions against a Rebels side who found their attacking platform at the right time.
If you consider this Rebels side was missing James O’Connor, Danny Cipriani, Jarrod Saffy and others and only welcomed Wallaby veteran Stirling Mortlock back in the second half after a long injury, it was not quite the easy walkover many expected as the Rebels tested the Bulls' defence to the brim.
Bulls defensive coach John McFarland may be heading to the Boks soon, but after the implosion in the last 20 minutes against the Brumbies last week and the Bulls leaking five tries today, it must be asked if splitting his time between the Bulls and Boks isn’t hampering the team too much?
For while the Bulls showed some great attacking skills, their defence was wanting at times and by letting in five tries they certainly did not tick all the boxes that McFarland had set for them before the game.
In fact, the defensive system has been something that has been wanting at Loftus Versfeld this season, as the young side comes to terms with what it means to be a Super Rugby side after the loss of several high profile players.
There were also other worrying signs for the Bulls, including the injury to Jacques Potgieter while Flip van der Merwe’s contuing ability to attract yellow cards must be a major concern for the team.
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The truth is though that they got out of this game exactly what they wanted: five points on the log. For the slogfest they were in, the Bulls were always in control of the game and now sit pretty at the top of the log for the next few hours at least, knowing that the Stormers are on a bye and the Chiefs will only play on Saturday.
Still, with so much promise at the start, their defence rather let them down against a home team which had won just 33 per cent of their home games and a lot less outside their base of Melbourne.
The game started so well as Akona Ndungane ghosted down the wing after a perfect pass from Zane Kirchner to open the scoring with a trademark winger try.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
But the Rebels were determined not to be just the defending side in the contest and with enough ball to play with they sent the Bulls into defensive mode with several attacking phases, with big Rodney Blake going over for the try to level the scores.
Kurtley Beale showed some of his attacking genius as he stepped Chiliboy Ralepelle in surprisingly easy fashion to open up a perfect gap and put Cooper Vuna away for the try.
The Bulls struck back with relative ease as Jacques Potgieter and Pierre Spies punched holes in the defence before the ball went wide and Bjorn Basson added to his try tally for the day.
All the while Morne Steyn kept up an amazing kicking stat of 100% with some great touchline conversions before adding a try himself as the Bulls pulled ahead.
But just as they got ahead, the frailty in their defence showed its ugly head again as Nick Phipps picked up the ball from a ruck close to the line and scored with relative ease to bring the Rebels back into it.
The Bulls pack put them back into the driving seat as they marched the Rebels back 30 metres on a lineout drive for CJ Stander to come out at the bottom of the melee, scoring another well-worked try for the youngster.
The Rebels got their bonus point as well in the first half as Gareth Delve drove over, giving the Bulls some food for thought at the break.
Steyn took control in the second half, adding a penalty before some classic flyhalf reading of the play popped a chip over the defence and watched as JJ Engelbrecht swooped in to score.
Mortlock’s appearance brought immediate dividends as he passed a perfect pass to Mitch Inmann, which saw Cooper Vuna just make it over the line to score.
But with the Rebels on attack, the Bulls defence made some telling hits to ensure victory, and eventually won a penalty for Morne Steyn to put over and ensure the win.
In the long term the Bulls will take the five-point victory, and talk about how the game was open and entertaining, but they will also know they will have to improve a lot if they are to match the Stormers' haul on tour.
Melbourne Rebels – Tries: Rodney Blake, Cooper Vuna (2), Nick Phibbs, Gareth Delve. Conversions: Kurtley Beale (5).
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Akona Ndungane, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, CJ Stander, JJ Engelbrecht. Conversions: Steyn (5). Penalties: Steyn (2).