Pretoria - It took exactly 40 minutes for any kind of spark before the Bulls romped to a 40-7 victory over the Melbourne Rebels in their final Super Rugby match at a chilly Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday night.
The Bulls ensured they remained unbeaten at home this season.
The home side trudged to a 12-7 lead following a dreary first half which was perhaps expected of a dead rubber.
The Bulls finished their campaign in ninth place and relegated the Rebels to the bottom spot, in the process helping any of the other South African sides to avoid the wooden spoon.
Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard turned in a flawless place-kicking performance with four penalties and three conversions.
The youngster opened the score with a penalty seven minutes into the match before he slotted another 13 minutes later.
The Bulls were somewhat lucky to be leading by five points after Rebels flyhalf Jack Debreczeni fluffed two early attempts at goal.
In the same vein, they gifted the Rebels an early advantage when lock Paul Willemse was yellowcarded for a dangerous tackle in the 16th minute.
Debreczeni soon had a chance to redeem himself when he found his way across the whitewash following a sneaky underhand pass from Caderyn Neville at the ruck to dot down and convert his own five-pointer.
The Rebels’ slender lead was short-lived as Pollard’s trusty boot turned the one-point deficit into a five-point advantage with penalty goals in the 26th and 31st minutes.
Debreczeni had another shot at reducing the Bulls’ lead on the half-time break but failed.
The sparse Loftus crowd were soon awoken from their first-half slumber when the hard-as-nails Willemse received a flat skip-pass from scrumhalf Piet van Zyl to burst over the line for his side’s first try.
Ten minutes later, Willemse got his brace with a pick-and-go try that started with a Bulls line-out and subsequent driving maul.
Pollard added the conversion to extend his side’s lead to 24-7 before Francois Hougaard, playing on the left wing, scored a lovely individual try.
The fleet-footed player again proved he is more adept at playing on the wing, where he can exploit space with his dangerous attacking runs.
The Bulls spread the ball wide to the left, where Hougaard dazzled the defence with a little step to the inside before he rolled out of a tackle to score the Bulls’ third try.
The match again went into a slight lull before replacement prop Dean Greyling, who made a valuable contribution, found the tryline in the 77th minute for the bonus point.
lThe ACT Brumbies ran in seven tries, including a hat-trick from flyhalf Matt Toomua, to thump the Western Force 47-25 in their all-Australian clash in Canberra and book their play-off berth.
The Brumbies climbed to fourth ahead of the Waikato Chiefs, who earlier clinched their place, ending the Perth-based Force’s hopes of a maiden knockout appearance.
Toomua crossed the line for the hosts’ first two tries and completed his hat-trick with another in the second half, while Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Joseph Tomane and Tom McVerry also scored for the Brumbies for their seventh straight home win.
The visitors launched a brief fight-back in the second half, scoring tries through Pekahou Cowan, Chris Tuatara-Morrison and Zack Holmes, but it was never going to be enough.
lThe defending champion Chiefs secured a play-off berth with an 11-8 victory over hosts the Auckland Blues in their final week of the regular season at Eden Park.
Liam Messam ran in a try and six points came via the boot of Aaron Cruden as the Chiefs kept alive their hopes of a hat-trick of titles.
The outcome shattered the playoff dreams of the Blues, who went into the match with an unbeaten home record this year but also missing All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock and captain Luke Braid through injuries.
After a tight first half, George Moala scored a second-half try in the right hand corner but it was not enough in the end for a side burdened with a mammoth pre-game task of needing to win by 38 points. – Reuters