The Bulls emphatic 46-17 win over the Calamity Cats at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday emphatically answered the challenge laid down by the Sharks and Brumbies earlier in the day. The race for the Vodacom Super 14 semi-finals is well and truly on.
The six try to two demolition of Frans Ludekeâ€™s charges has done wonders for the Bulls chances of making the play-offs. The five-point haul was exactly what was required and the Bully Boys did not disappoint in front of 33,836 screaming fans.
The Cats, on the other hand were woeful again. A catalogue of dropped passes and wrong options plagued their chances to give the Bulls a run for their money. At times the Cats were playing with nothing but heart, but in the end that was not enough to see off a solid, if not completely commanding performance by the Bulls.
Against the script, the Cats took the lead when Pretorius slotted a penalty in the 12th minute. It was to be the Cats only points of a scratchy half, although Pretorius took aim four times. He did not bring his kicking boots with him.
The Bulls restored order with two tries midway through the half by JP Nel, after a fine flowing move and flanker Tim Dlulane. Steyn converted Dlulaneâ€™s try and added two penalties for a commanding 18-3 lead at the break.
The Bulls were dominant at the line-outs and scrums and even earned a rare tighthead when the Cats had gone through a passage of good play.
A black kitten ran on the field in the 32nd minute and it ended up proving an ominous sign for the visitors â€“ the second half was even more disastrous as the Bulls finally found their rhythm against the rudderless Cats.
Four second half tries was just reward for a dominating display, but had they also not made a few silly errors it could well have been many more. The Bulls will take renewed confidence from this match into the remainder of the competition.
To their credit the Cats never gave up and scored two consolation tries, but ultimately they were as bad as they have been all season and more questions will be asked of the hierachy at Cats HQ.
The defeat is the Catsâ€™ ninth in ten games and sees them still rooted to 13th spot on the log, another unlucky omen. They host the Western Force at Ellis Park with the loser almost definitely destined to finish the season last in the inaugural Super 14 series.
After the Force’s fine effort in drawing with the top-of-the-table Crusaders, a Cats win is far from a formality as the two basement teams battle it out not to be the wooden-spooners in 2006.
The Bulls, meanwhile, tackle the Sharks at Loftus, with victory a necessity for both teams if they want to keep their semis dream alive. It promises to be the most mouth-watering SA derby match of the season.
It almost certainly is the first of several clashes this season between the two top teams from South Africa.
Bulls - Tries: JP Nel, Tim Dlulane, Pedrie Wannenburg, Fourie du Preez, Danie Rossouw, Pierre Spies. Conversions: Morne Steyn (5). Penalties: Steyn (2).
Cats - Tries: Delarey du Preez, Ernst Joubert. Conversions: Andre Pretorius (2). Penalty: Pretorius.
By Andrew Hollely
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTER:
79 mins: Pierre Spies bursts away for a try under the poles to seal an emphatic win for the Bully Boys over the poor Calamity Cats. Steyn adds extras. (Steyn 7/8)
78 mins: All the reserves are on as they game winds down. Penalty to Cats. Pretorius speeds away and feeds Delarey du Preez who has only the line to beat, but he drops the ball. Scrum Bulls 15m out.
74 mins: Bulls gather from restart and pile pressure on the visitors. Several scrappy phases later they are awarded a penalty. Heini Adams taps, but is tackled by the Cats. Another penalty, but Steyn misses from in front.
70 mins: Cats try desperately to run from their 22, but spill the ball. Bulls have it and attack, but knock. It’s very helter skelter. Both teams making mistakes, Cats attack through Januarie. He’s driven back. Ball is recycled and Ernst Joubert bursts through the middle to score. Pretorius adds extras. (Pretorius 3/6)
68 mins: The Bulls are rampant and the crowd knows it. A Mexican Wave sweeps around the stadium as the Bulls force another lineout 5m from Cats line. Cats stop the drive. And the Bulls knock. Scrum Cats.
64 mins: Penalty Bulls in Cats 22. Kick for touch. Lineout. Another penalty. Steyn goes for touch again. Danie Rossouw takes ball in the lineout and they drive and he scores a try. It’s getting dangerous out there. Steyn converts. (Steyn 6/7)
61 mins: The Cats refuse to lie down and attack from the off. The Bulls are scrambling and a try looks certain, but Pretorius’s pass to Jaque Fourie on the wing is low and the Bok is unable to hold on. Scrum Bulls, 5m out from own line. they run it and the ball comes loose. Cats counter through Esterhuizen, but he holds on and is penalised. Lineout Bulls just outside Cats 22.
57 mins: The Bulls reply immediately and earn a scrum inside the Cats 22. Du Preez peels away and slips through a gap to go over untouched for a fine solo try and the bonus point. Steyn converts. (Steyn 5/6)
55 mins: Cats are starting to spread it wide and stretch the Bulls defence. Bulls penalised on halfway. Pretorius kicks to touch 8m from Bulls line. They take the ball and drive it over the Bulls line surprisingly easily. Delarey du Preez emerges with the ball. Pretorius finally succeeds with a kick. (Pretorius 2/5)
52 mins: Bulls scrum on halfway, 10m in from touch. Du Preez is wrapped up by Cobus Grobbelaar. Steals the ball and feeds Ernst Joubert. The Cats pounce and look certain to score, but the last pass is spilled. Bulls scrum 5m out.
45 mins: The Bulls can’t get out of their own half as the Cats show desperation, but good defence by Bulls puts them out in the corner. Lineout Bulls. Bakkies wins the ball and they run it. Cats back three out of position and a long kick puts them under pressure. Bulls scrum in Cats 22. Blindside move puts Wannenburg away for try number three. Steyn slots the extras. (Steyn 4/5)
41 mins: Game restarts and its even in midfield. The Cats kick the ball out on the full. Lineout Bulls on halfway. It’s over the top and the Cats come away, but the move peters out about 15m from teh Bulls line. Lineout Bulls. Bakkies takes. They maul it up and du Preez kicks. Jantjes gathers and the Cats counter. Januarie has a dart. It’s all a little loose. Move breaks down with a forward pass. Scrum Bulls on thier own 22.
38 mins: A high tackle by Trevor Hall on Habana is penalised, but Ricky Januarie gets in a scrap with Bakkies Botha and once the dust has settled, the penalty is reversed for illegal use of the shoulder. Pretorius though misses again. (Pretorius 1/4)
36 mins: Bulls secure the ball and attack up the middle. Cats pinged for not releasing the player. Steyn is on song. (Steyn 3/4)
34 mins: From the Cats scrum, the Bulls secure a tighthead and punt the ball up towards halfway to relieve some pressure. Cats lineout. Ball goes wide, but is lost and the Bulls hack it ahead. Pretorius retreats to put the ball into touch. Bulls lineout 20m out.
32 mins: But the Cats remain in Bulls territory as they press for a better position. Bulls are pinged for a forward pass, but a tiny black cat – the four legged variety – scampers onto the field and play is halted momentarily, while officials remove the traumatised kitten. The other 15 cats on the field aren’t looking much more assured.
29 mins: Cats attack from the restart and Earl Rose chips ahead only for Wannenburg to trip him. Penalty Cats. Pretorius pushes it wide again.
25 mins: Bulls putting huge pressure on set pieces. Cats panic and fling ball out. Carried over line. Scrum Bulls. Bulls drive and crash over. Tim Dlulane’s effort is referred to the TV ref, who awards it. Steyn converts and its 15-3. (Steyn 2/3)
22 mins: Bulls scrum 35m out. Fourie du Preez spins it wide and the ball passes through the hands quickly. Jaco van der Westhuyzen joins the line and puts Habana away. He beats several defenders, but spills the ball near the line in the tackle. Scrum Cats 5m from own line.
19 mins: Bulls are full of running and get the ball out to Bryan Habana who beats three defenders before offloading inside. The ball is quickly spun to the left and outside centre JP Nel is at the end of a good move to score in the corner. Steyn misses the conversion. (Steyn 1/2)
15 mins: The Bulls surge up field with their forwards prominent. Cats pinged for infringement in ruck. Morne Steynm kicks easy penalty to draw level. (Steyn 1/1)
12 mins: Another drop by Pretorius goes wide, but they have the penalty, again for offside. This time he makes no mistake. (Pretorius 1/2)
8 mins: Pretorius attempts drop, but misses. They have the penalty anyway. He misses that too. (Pretorius (0/1)
6 mins: The Bulls hold the ball for several phases, with centre Wynand Olivier prominent, but good defence by the Cats keeps them at bay as the game gets a little loose early on. Pedrie Wannenburg, playing in his 50th game for the Bulls, is driven back in a tackle by little Ricky Januarie. Cats scrum, but they knock on. Bulls scrum just outside thier 22.
3 mins: Morne Steyn’s pass is wild and goes out. cats lineout on halfway, but Grant Esterhuizen spills it in the tackle. Bulls hoof it forward. Conrad Jantjes gathers and the Bulls are penalised for going off their feet.
1 min: Andre Pretorius kicks off. Wyanand Olivier takes. Ball is spun wide and Fourie du preez drills the ball down field. Cats kick out. Bulls lineout on Cats 10m line.