It may have been ugly to the eye and disjointed at the best of times but the Bulls did enough on Saturday to secure themselves an important 28-10 win over the Melbourne Rebels at their Loftus fortress.
Under ideal conditions for the running game which the Bulls have mastered in recent times, the home side failed to capitalise on an equally lethargic Rebels line-up that was struggling to adapt to the high pace of the game but also to the unfamiliar 3pm kick-off time especially at altitude.
Even though the Bulls managed to cross over the whitewash four times with three tries in the first half and the fourth and last coming late in the second half, they still could have scored more had they been clinical in their execution and shown a bit more enthusiasm with ball in hand.
The lack of urgency in the Bulls play was epitomised by two poor handling errors in the first half when flank Roelof Smit failed to hold onto the ball with tries beckoning.
But at the same time, the hosts weren’t allowed to get into their stride firstly by a highly disruptive and negative Rebels side, and secondly by an inept performance from referee Ben O’Keeffe.
The Australians, probably already resigned to the fact that theirs was a lost cause long before kick-off, weren’t shy at igniting some off-the-ball scuffles and were often the instigators at the stop start affair set-pieces with their constant infringements.
But O’Keeffe also played his part in the snore fest by turning a blind eye to the obvious off the ball incidents and allowing the Rebels negative play in the line-out drives. The New Zealand whistleman was as unsure of what was happening in the scrums as have been the interpretation of the laws by most of Super Rugby’s referees.
O’Keeffe also failed to apply the law equally with the Rebels enjoying much freedom at the breakdown while the Bulls weren’t given much of a fair chance to steal possession even when it seemed like they had properly done everything required of them.
The failure of O’Keeffe alongside television match official Willie Vos to at least penalise the Rebels after wing Marika Koroibete had committed a late tackle on try-bound Warrick Gelant was another blot against the officiating on the day.
With the Bulls' platforms of attack nullified with the rolling mauls and scrums, the men in blue showed versatility in their play by using their defence as a mode of attack and from turnovers they easily capitalised on the Rebels' unstructured defence.
The hosts' first try came from a Rebels handling error deep in their half with Strauss ultimately crashing over while Jesse Kriel’s try was a gem from first phase ball when Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard grubbered through for Kriel to pick up and score.
The Rebels' uninspiring performance was further compounded by the lack of accuracy of flyhalf Jack Debreczeni who missed two easy penalties earlier in the game.
Such was the Rebels' lack of interest in at least trying to gain their maiden win on South African soil, that they hardly showed any excitement when scrumhalf Michael Ruru scored their only try of the game in the 46th minute which brought them within 11 points of the Bulls.
In the end, it was the team that showed some interest in making the 80 minutes resemble a rugby game that were the ultimate and deserved winners and it was with a bonus point that will strengthen the Bulls' cause in the second half of the competition.