The Bulls snapped the Chiefs’ six-match unbeaten streak with a 33-27 victory at Loftus .
The Bulls were never going to thrill the Loftus crowd with this performance, but they were ruthlessly effective in their relatively conservative approach.
Where others have failed in attempting to counter the Chiefs by replicating their expansive approach, the Bulls, outside of isolated nervy periods, hardly strayed from a formula that stressed tackle-point and set-phase dominance and accurate tactical kicking.
They were punished when they did attempt to dazzle, the Chiefs’ second try being a prime example of this, but always looked capable of breaching the visitors when they rumbled up into their red zone.
The halfback pair of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn were always going to be key to the Bulls’ success, and they met that expectation, the former pressuring the Chiefs with his accurate box kicks and quick ruck clearances, while the latter controlled the flow of the game beautifully, his game a hybrid of punishing tactical punts and good distribution. In addition, Steyn boasted a flawless goal-kicking record.
However, mention must be made of their primary ball carriers, the most impressive of those being Derick Kuun, Gurthro Steenkamp, Pierre Spies and Dewald Potgieter, who often drove the ball over the advantage line nullifying the Chiefs’ ground level scrappers.
The Bulls’ first try came thanks to some excellent build up play where they stretched the Chiefs wide then hit up around the ruck through Akona Ndungane who then offloaded to Kuun to score.
The Chiefs, however, hauled themselves into the contest through Sione Lauaki. After a scrum had been set up on the Bulls’ 5m line the No 8 smashed up around a poorly guarded ruck fringe.
But the Bulls scored 13 points in five minutes to take the ascendancy. Steyn sunk a snap drop before Kuun showed superb anticipation to intercept and sprint 40m en route to his second. Steyn added the extras and slotted another penalty to give the Bulls a comfortable lead.
The momentum was with the hosts and they seemed to get swept away in that, shelving their phase-based approach for an expansive one. They were duly punished when the Chiefs isolated Ndungane near the touchline. They took the free kick quickly, finding that no Bulls defenders had lined up and were gifted seven points.
The Bulls, however, responded brilliantly, scoring after the half-time siren had sounded. They set up two phases from a free kick on the 5m line before sending the ball wide to Wynand Olivier who busted through two tackles for the score, converted by Steyn.
Steyn kept the scoreboard ticking over after the break, banking two more penalties.
Against the Brumbies last week the Bulls made the error of trying to defend a lead and they seemed to fall back into that mindset. It cost them, and the Chiefs kept hope of victory alive through a converted try by Richard Kahui.
With just six points difference, the Bulls needed to maintain their composure on attack and defence and play for field position if they were to avoid a repeat of last week’s disappointing result. They did just that, scrambling desperately in defence when they slipped tackles and reverted to a forward-orientated game that sapped the fight out of the Chiefs.
Despite not taking five points from the match, victory over a class side like the Chiefs will be satisfying in its own right. Victories against the Force and Cheetahs in the next fortnight will put them in an excellent position to secure a home semi-final prior to their daunting visit to King’s Park in three weeks time.
By Ryan Vrede