Bulls beat Pumas, clinch fourth Super Rugby title
CAPE TOWN – It wasn’t the champagne rugby that their fans have become accustomed to, but never mind – the Bulls are champions again!
The Pretoria outfit clinched their first piece of silverware in a decade as they eased to a 21-5 victory over the Pumas at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday to become Super Rugby Unlocked winners – an exclusive title, considering that the tournament won’t be played again, while they were also the only South African side to claim the original Super Rugby championship on three occasions.
Jake White’s team got the job done in the first half at a wet Loftus Versfeld on Saturday with a professional opening 40 minutes.
Having virtually secured their trophy before kickoff following the cancellation of the Sharks-Stormers match, the Bulls would’ve been in danger of going through the motions.
But despite the slippery conditions, they again varied their play cleverly, with backs and forwards combining well with ball-in-hand, while the big men also charged up the middle when required.
Initially the Pumas cut down the opposition’s space with their rush defence, but they were eventually penalised regularly by referee Aimee Barrett-Theron for going offside.
The Bulls seemed to find their rhythm early on, and after a number of strong carries by the forwards, electric wing Kurt-Lee Arendse darted over from close range to open the scoring in the 11th minute.
It didn’t take long for the men in blue to add to their tally. Centre Cornal Hendricks showed his class with some hard running in midfield, and flyhalf Chris Smith managed to force his away over to make it 14-0 after 17 minutes.
It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon for the Mbombela side, but the Pumas took the fight to their more illustrious opponents. Powerful No 8 Willie Engelbrecht led the onslaught with a couple of strong runs, and it was an emotional day for him after his father Buks passed away on Friday night – with a moment’s silence observed before kickoff.
But even though they controlled possession smartly at times, the Pumas just couldn’t break down the blue wall in front of them as the last pass didn’t go to hand or a wrong option was taken.
Bulls lock Walt Steenkamp nearly added five more points as he picked up a loose pass, but the ball was knocked out of his hands by a defender as he went over the line.
Two minutes later, though, scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl finished off a polished build-up, and it was 21-0 to the hosts after just 24 minutes.
The Pumas never stopped trying, and their defence held firm for the rest of the half despite conceding a number of scrum penalties – and they were lucky to escape a yellow card from referee Barrett-Theron.
They seemed to gain some confidence from that, and were the better team after halftime. They were rewarded for their endeavour when hooker HP van Schoor claimed the first points for the visitors from a lineout drive.
Both sides went all out on attack in the second half, but handling errors were the order of the day, with the replacements not adding much impact.
All that mattered, though, was that Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen was able to lift the trophy afterwards. And it was not a moment too soon, as it ended a 10-year drought from the 2010 Super Rugby competition.
Bulls 21 – Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Chris Smith, Ivan van Zyl. Conversions: Smith (3).
Pumas 5 – Try: HP van Schoor.