The Vodacom Blue Bulls blew hot and cold before eventually running out comfortable 66-3 winners over the hapless Pumas at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
The Bulls led 28-0 at the break and ran in 10 tries, but left at least another three on the table. Although they were never in danger of losing this one, they made far too many mistakes.
If this match had been played against one of the top teams in the competition the Bulls would have struggled to keep up, although at times they looked really dangerous.
Next weekâ€™s match in Durban against the Sharks promises to be interesting, but much work lies ahead if the Bulls are to stay in the hunt for a semi-final spot.
The bottom line is that a performance like tonightâ€™s is not good enough to threaten the likes of the Cheetahs, Sharks and Western Province.
For the Bulls, fullback Stefan Basson was dangerous each time he touched the ball, while loose-forwards Hilton Lobberts and Danie Rossouw were tireless throughout. Centre Dries Scholtz scored a hat-trick and was a constant thorn in the Pumas flesh. Hougaard played well and contributed 14 points from seven conversions.
For the Pumas, flank Corne Steenkamp was the lone beacon, giving everything for the full 80 minutes, but it was not enough as the Pumas were well beaten in most departments.
Due to the nature of the game, coach Pote Human gave all of his match 22 a run, but the Bulls never really clicked all evening.
The Bulls dominated the set pieces from the outset and Rossouw, playing at No 8, was particularly prominent. Lobberts was playing like a man possessed, putting in crunching tackles all over the park and it didnâ€™t take long for the home team to get on the scoreboard.
From a lineout inside the Pumas 22 in the 7th minute, the pack drove towards the line and the visitors had no answer as hooker Adriaan Strauss emerged from the melee of players with ball in hand.
Then six minutes later a superb backline move after a great break by Hougaard saw wing Marius Delport score between the poles. Hougaard kicked both conversions and the Bulls were already into a healthy lead less than a quarter hour into the match.
The Pumas though refused to roll over and fought back, spending much of the next ten minutes camped in Bulls territory. Stoic defence though kept the visitors at bay. The lineouts belonged entirely to the Bulls and the pack was dominant at scrum time. The Pumas managed to hold out without further tries until just before the half hour mark.
But by then the pressure was just getting too much and the Bulls were starting to play with real purpose. The Pumas though were doing their level best to slow the ball down, and it worked a few times. On the odd occasion they were able to attack, the Pumas runners were scythed down in hard tackles. The destroyer-in-chief in this facet was Lobberts who was brutal, but fair.
A double by Scholtz â€“ the second from about 15m out and with three defenders hanging onto him – in the space of four minutes was the killer blow. Somehow the Pumas managed to keep the score at 28-0 at half-time.
But unfortunately a rugby match is made up of 80 minutes and it was the second 40 that really hurt the visitors.
A further six tries took the final tally to 10, and means the Bulls have their noses in front in the race for a semi-final place. The best of the lot came on the hour mark when a brilliant chip by Hougaard was gathered on the full by a speeding Delport who then evaded three defenders to score under the poles.
Vodacom Blue Bulls: Tries: Adriaan Strauss 2 (7th min, 55th min), Marius Delport 2 (13th min, 60th min), Dries Scholtz 3 (29th min, 33rd min, 69th min), Danie Rossouw (50th min), Morne Steyn 2 (72nd min, 77th min). Conversions: Derick Hougaard 7 (7th min, 13th min, 29th min, 33rd min, 60th min, 72nd min, 77th min), Morne Steyn 1 (50th min).
Pumas: Penalties: Arno Coetzee 1 (53rd min).
Blue Bulls: 15 Stefan Basson, 14 Marius Delport, 13 Frikkie Welsh (captain), 12 Dries Scholtz, 11 Danwel Demas, 10 Derick Hougaard, 9 Heini Adams; 8 Danie Rossouw, 7 Johan Wasserman, 6 Hilton Lobberts, 5 Francois van Schouwenburg, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Jaco Engels.
Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Danie Thiart, 18 Hottie Louw, 19 Warren Brosnihan, 20 Neil Powell, 21 MornÃ© Steyn, 22 Johan Roets.
Pumas: 15 Oginga Siwundla, 14 Darryl Coeries, 13 BC du Plessis, 12 Arno Coetzee, 11 Hyron Thyse, 10 Quinton van Tonder (captain), 9 Neil Cole, 8 Schalk van der Merwe, 7 Jonathan van der Schyff, 6 Corne Steenkamp, 5 Jacques Lombaard, 4 Stefan Gerber, 3 Pierre du Toit, 2 Frikkie de Jager, 1 Johan Prins.
Replacements: 16 MornÃ© Kruger, 17 Sean Johnson, 18 Bokkie Swanepoel, 19 Danzel Manuel, 20 Ashieq Wise, 21 Pieter Benade, 22. JÃ³van Botha.
By Andrew Hollely, at Loftus Versfeld