Pretoria – The Blue Bulls won their first match of the Currie Cup competition with a four-try bonus-point victory of 30-25 over the Eastern Province Kings at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon.
The victory will merely paper over the serious cracks that are clearly visible after the Kings came close to claiming an upset over the more esteemed opposition.
The visitors truly accounted for themselves as they bounced back from two consecutive defeats, including a crushing 60-19 loss to the Golden Lions last weekend.
The Bulls, however, would welcome the reprieve after conceding 82 points in their opening two matches.
Although the hosts butchered a few chances, it was the coastal side that produced a number of enterprising attacks.
The Bulls opened the scoring six minutes into the encounter when flyhalf Tony Jantjies converted a penalty after making a promising assault on the line.
A minute later the Kings made their intentions clear as they crossed the whitewash from a counter-attack with wing Shane Gates finishing off a move that saw a couple of players handling the ball.
In the 15th minute Bulls' lock Paul Willemse scored his side's first five-pointer of the match from a demolishing driving maul of over 20 metres.
Just under the half-hour mark, Jantjies extended the Bulls' lead by three points with a successful penalty conversion but the Kings' Scott van Breda replied with one of his own in the 37th minute to send the teams to the changerooms with the hosts leading 11-8.
After the break, the Kings took the lead for the first time in the match when, against the flow of play, prop Lizo Gqoboka broke from a ruck inside the Bulls' 22 to score, with Van Breda slotting the conversion.
The Bulls suffered a further blow when Jantjies was shown a yellow card, which assisted the Kings in defending their lead until the 55th minute.
A minute after Kings' replacement hooker Michael van Vuuren was also given his marching orders, the Bulls got their groove back as stalwart wing Akona Ndungane finished on the wrong side of the field, with fullback Jesse Kriel hooking the conversion kick.
Ndungane again showed his class four minutes later, scoring on the other side of the field for his side's third try of the match.
The hosts started to find easier access over the advantage line while the altitude seemed to have an effect on the Kings' players.
The Bulls put more daylight between the Kings and themselves when Kriel showed some great special awareness as he drifted outside before spotting a gap. He accelerated to find the tryline for his side's bonus-point try.
The Kings bounced back immediately from the kickoff when Van Vuuren pounced on a spilled Bulls' ball to score in the 64th minute, with Van Breda converting to cut the deficit to five points. However, they could not manage to get back into the danger zone to score what would have been a famous victory.
Scorers: Blue Bulls 30 (11): Tries: Paul Willemse, Akona Ndungane (2), Jesse Kriel.
Conversions: Tony Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Eastern Province Kings 25 (8): Tries: Shane Gates, Lizo Gqoboka, Michael van Vuuren. Conversions: Scott van Breda (2). Penalties:
Van Breda (2). – Sapa