PRETORIA – The Bulls are back on top of the South African Conference, but their stuttering victory over the Waratahs at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria yesterday exposed their weaknesses.
Flashes of brilliance, coupled with a poor defensive effort, characterised an erratic display by the Bulls.
They produced some magic in the first 20 minutes, with Warrick Gelant and Duane Vermeulen crossing the whitewash.
Springbok pivot Handré Pollard added the rest of the points with the boot, converting two of the tries and slotting three penalties.
The Bulls were full of value in the first half, and looked set for a runaway victory over the Waratahs.
The home side went into the halftime break with an 18-7 lead, but squandered the advantage to allow the visitors into the game.
The Loftus faithful will argue that is nevertheless a victory, but it was too close for comfort and does not instil much confidence ahead of next week’s match against the Crusaders.
The match was on a knife’s edge, with the Waratahs threatening to spoil the Bulls’ resurgence when they drew level 21-21 in the 66th minute.
A try by replacement prop Simphiwe Matanzima four minutes later spared their blushes giving them an unconvincing victory.
But the Bulls will have to address their chronic self-inflicted pressure, which has been a problem throughout their campaign.
Bulls coach Pote Human hoped for a bonus-point victory, but the Pretoria side can thank their lucky stars they managed to come out on top.
It is not that the Bulls were poor in all aspects of their game, but instead, they did not capitalise on the things that did go their way.
Renowned ball thief Michael Hooper did not quite have his way at the breakdowns while the Bulls did bully the Tahs in the odd scrum.
Wings Cornal Hendricks and Rosko Specman injected some spark on the attack, while Marco van Staden, Hanro Liebenberg and Lizo Gqoboka turned in stellar performances.
The Bulls will be hitting the tackle bags this week as they look to fix their defensive shortcomings.
Their defence was by far their weakest point in the match, as they gave the Waratahs easy access over the advantage line.
The Waratahs’ third try exposed the Bulls’ defensive fragility as Curtis Rona scored a five-pointer.
The Bulls can expect carnage at Lofts Versfeld next week against the Crusaders if they do not find a band-aid for their leaky defence.
It was not all doom and gloom, with a few good patches giving the 7 483 spectators something to cheer about.
Springbok No 98 Duane Vermeulen may be battling with his form, but provided one of the highlights of the match.
Fullback Warrick Gelant opened their account in the ninth minute, but it was Vermeulen’s try that would stick out.
Vermeulen intercepted a Waratahs ball just inside the Bulls half, and made a beeline for the right-hand corner.
Bulls v Waratahs | Super Rugby 2019 Rd 12 Highlights— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) May 4, 2019
The @BlueBullsRugby continue their impressive record over the @NSWWaratahs at Loftus, edging the fast-finishing visitors 28-21 in an exciting clash.#SuperRugby #BULvWAR pic.twitter.com/sOYOwdTSQ7
Showing signs of slowing, Vermeulen slipped out of Rona’s grasp and kicked up his legs, which resembled a goose step, to touch down for his side’s second try.
Pollard kept the scoreboard ticking over, extending their lead to 21-7 points in the second half.
Waratahs fullback Kurtley Beale got his side back into the game, evading a Pollard tackle with a superb step to his inside en route to the try-line in the 51st minute.
The tourists levelled the scores thanks to Rona’s try, before Matanzima dove across the line, with Pollard converting to give them the victory.