The Bulls started their Australasian tour with a 19-14 victory over the Hurricanes despite being reduced to 14 men for the majority of the game.
The Canes were unable to unhinge the Bulls until after the full-time siren and there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the Bulls’ defensive effort. The fact that the victory was secured without Springboks Bryan Habana and Victor Matfield makes it even more impressive.
However, the analysis of this match would be incomplete without mention being made of its biggest negative contributor, referee Matt Goddard. The Australian killed the flow of the contest with his nauseatingly pedantic officiating, particularly at the breakdown.
He awarded 35 short or full arm penalties in the first quarter alone and binned Pedrie Wannenburg, Ma’a Nonu, Scott Waldrom and Jason Eaton harshly.
Bulls openside flank Deon Stegmann deserved his red card (a second yellow) for an horrific spear tackle on Conrad Smith, but that was one of the few calls Goddard got correct. From the outset of the match he seemed intent on stealing the show, and achieved his goal, which is a pity because this match promised so much more than it delivered.
The Bulls were always expected to be forward orientated and rely on their halfback pair to gain them field position off the boot, and that approach proved to be successful.
Pierre Spies was a force in general play and his powerful carries were a source of momentum, while the physicality of Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw troubled the Canes. However, to isolate individuals for praise seems unfair when the collective were so efficient.
When they stayed patient in their phase play the Bulls looked dangerous, but at times, particularly in the second half, runners isolated themselves and were susceptible to the turnover. However, they remained disciplined and structured for the vast majority of the contest and that nullified the Canes’ primary strengths. It was a simple game plan, but a very effective one.
Morne Steyn profited from Goddard’s generosity in the first half, sinking three penalties, but the Bulls will be disappointed with conceding a try off first phase – Tamati Ellison receiving the ball from a centre-field scrum and brushing off the attempted tackle of Zane Kirchner en route to the tryline.
Stegmann’s red card early in the second half put the Bulls under pressure and for a period they looked like they might concede. But their defensive line held firm and they settled back into their stride.
Indeed, it was the Bulls who looked the more threatening despite their disadvantage, and after JP Nel crossed for a superb converted try, they never looked like surrendering their lead.
It wasn’t the prettiest victory but the Bulls will take an ugly win in what they would have identified as their toughest game on tour. The win means they carry massive confidence into their match against the Highlanders in Dunedin next week.
By Ryan Vrede