The Vodacom Blue Bulls stayed in contention for a home Absa Currie Cup semi-final after a 27-13 victory over the Valke in Brakpan.
The Bulls signalled their intentions early on with a third-minute try by Johan Roets after a well-constructed backline set-play.
The Pretoria-based side showed tremendous intensity in both the tight and the loose, and a period of sustained pressure culminated in a Hougaard penalty and an early 10-0 lead.
The Valke are notoriously difficult to beat at the Bosman Stadium and a Louis Strydom drop goal soon got them on the scoreboard.
The Bulls dominated possession and territory but a Michael Vermaak turnover in the Valke 22m area saw a blindside counter-attack from Riaan Viljoen finished off by Hanno Coetzee. Strydom restored parity with the conversion.
The Bulls struck either side of the break, first through Pedrie Wannenburg after a brilliant piece of counter-attacking play by Neil Powell and then through a 42nd minute Pierre Spies try.
Hougaard’s conversion gave his side a 22-13 lead, after Strydom’s second drop goal had brought the Valke back into the game.
Valke centre Riaan Hefer then had a try disallowed for putting a foot in touch as the Brakpan side continued to play an attractive brand of running rugby. However, their poor handling continued and probably cost them an upset win.
The game settled from the frenetic pace of the first half, and the boot of Hougaard stifled any forays the Valke made into the Bulls 22.
Both side’s defensive structure was solid but overzealous play and repeated infringements at the breakdown spoiled what promised to be an exciting second half.
More perplexing was that the Bulls looked dangerous everytime they spread the ball, but Pote Human’s side regularly opted for the security of Hougaard’s boot.
The bonus-point try eventually came from a Wannenburg blindside break close to the line in the 78th minute, to banish the memory of last Saturday’s defeat to the Lions and put them back in contention for a home semi-final.
Vodacom Blue Bulls: Tries: Frikkie Welsh, Pedrie Wannenburg(2), Spies; Conversions: Derick Hougaard (2); Penalties: Hougaard
Valke: Tries: Hanno Coetzee; Conversion: Strydom; Drop goals: Strydom (2)
By Ryan Vrede