First-half demolition wins it for Bulls
The Vodacom Bulls performed a first-half demolition and then promptly shut up shop to beat the Toyota Cheetahs 40-24 in their Vodacom Super Rugby encounter at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
The five-point victory moves the Bulls back into fourth spot, four points behind the Stormers in the South African conference with just two weeks left of the regular season.
But as impressive as the first 40 minutes were, the Bulls sent on a plethora of replacements when 40-0 ahead, and then promptly watched as the Cheetahs stormed back into the game via four tries in the last 20 minutes.
The Bulls will point out the value of the game time given to replacements such as Louis Fouche and Jano Vermaak, as well as the bit of rest that stalwarts such as Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn and captain Pierre Spies got, but it can’t be overlooked how the game swung out of their grasp in the last quarter.
Fair enough, they had done the hard yards by then, and the match was truly wrapped up, but for the 29 000 fans that braved the cold crisp winter air, it hardly served as an excuse.
Steyn returned to form and kicked five out of six conversions, not perfect, but a good reply from a player under pressure. Likewise with Francois Hougaard, who was his nuggety self, rattling the Cheetahs defence and asking questions the entire time with his attacking play.
The Bulls played exceptionally well in the first half, but were also helped by some suicidal tactics by the Cheetahs, who tried to run everything from their own line and shunned chances to take kicks at posts.
It may be seen as brave and enterprising rugby, but unless your game plan is clinical and well-executed, few teams have ever won at Loftus by trying to do that.
The Bulls simply pounced on mistakes and had secured their bonus point before the break.
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It took 18 minutes for the Bulls to get onto the board, but when they did, they never looked back. Their first try came from a counter after Andries Strauss placed a poor chip over the defence, only for Francois Hougaard to run it back and start the assault, with captain Pierre Spies powering his way over from close range.
Shortly afterwards, Dean Greyling powered his way over with Chiliboy Ralepelle helping him over the line before another Cheetahs mistake, this time Ashley Johnson who dropped an up and under, led to the third try as Zane Kirchner scooped the ball up to score.
The Cheetahs' habit of trying to run their way out of trouble placed them under massive pressure, and Johnson was caught behind a five-metre scrum by Hougaard, dropped the ball and watched as the Bulls scrumhalf picked up and dotted down with ease for the bonus point.
At 26-0 at the break, the writing was on the wall for the visitors, and it got worse after the break, first seeing Werner Kruger barge his way over after sustained pressure, and then an excellent try from a turnover by Bjorn Basson.
Basson beat the first tackle before -- with two defenders to beat -- he went inside and out, and showed the ball before sprinting ahead to beat Willie le Roux and score a sensational 60-metre try.
At 40-0 up, the Bulls replaced Steyn, Hougaard and Spies all in one shot, and immediately rued their decision as the Cheetahs came straight back at them.
WP Nel went over from close range twice -- the second a double movement that went unnoticed by the ref -- while a deft chip in his own 22 by replacement flyhalf Sias Ebersohn dropped perfectly for Willie le Roux to run 70 metres and dive in at the corner to score.
The final word was again the Cheetahs' as Heinrich Brussow sprinted down the touchline for a nice try with a good turn of speed to score a great try to finish off the game.
It gave the Cheetahs a bonus point for a 20-minute effort, and raised questions once again about the brittle nature of the Bulls bench.
Bulls –Tries: Pierre Spies, Dean Greyling, Zane Kirchner, Francois Hougaard, Bjorn Basson. Conversions: Morne Steyn (4).
Cheetahs –Tries: WP Nel (2), Willie Le Roux, Heinrich Brussow. Conversion: Sias Ebersohn.