PRETORIA – The Bulls will look back to their first two matches on tour against the Reds and Chiefs and have nobody to blame but themselves.
The errors of their ways were again epitomised by how they again let go of a healthy lead to succumb 41-28 to the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
A week before in Brisbane and well in control of proceedings, the Bulls blew a 14-3 lead to eventually lose 20-14 to the Reds.
In this game, the Bulls had led 21-7 midway through the first half, but they allowed the Chiefs to run in five tries in 44 minutes to emerge victorious.
The manner in which the Bulls ran out of steam and vied off their game again came back to haunt them in Hamilton in the very same way it had happened in Brisbane.
However, there was a lot the men from Pretoria would have taken out of their defeat to the Chiefs, from their tireless endeavour with ball-in-hand in attack to the valiant and abrasive manner in which they dominated the collisions at times.
The Bulls attack was well marshalled by Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard along with Jesse Kriel, who is getting back into form, while fullback Warrick Gelant once again proved why he by far the best No 15 in the country.
Pollard was a general with ball-in-hand and often made the right and timely decisions on when to pass and run, while Kriel was the perfect link man between the inside and outside backs, with his defence-splitting runs leading to two of the Bulls four tries.
Gelant was a handful from the back, and if it was not him turning the Chiefs defence inside out with his fleet-footed sidesteps, then he was running and creating space and showed bravery in plucking the ball out of the air, and taking on some of the Chiefs big men upfront.
The Bulls pack must also come in for some commendation as their driving maul created endless problems for the Chiefs and had deserved, at least, to have a one-man advantage for the number of times the New Zealanders infringed at the weight and might of the visitors’ lineout drives.
Over and above that the likes of props Pierre Schoeman and Trevor Nyakane put in a lot of hard work in getting over the advantage line and giving their team much-needed inertia, while Nyakane put in some massive hits in stopping the advancing Chiefs backs.
But in the end, it was came down to a handful of moments including the decision of referee Shuhei Kubo not to award them what seemed like a legitimate try by replacement scrumhalf Embrose Papier that ultimately swung the game in favour of the home side.
With the Bulls just two points ahead in the 58th minute, Gelant went on one of his dangerous runs, slicing with ease through the host’s defensive line before passing the ball to Papier, who cantered to score under the poles.
But Kubo referred the build-up to the try, citing obstruction by Lood de Jager on Brodie Retallick, to television match official Shane McDermott.
The TMO agreed with Kubo that Retallick had been impeded, even though it was clear that the All Black lock had run into his Springbok counterpart and Gelant had already glided past him.
“I really enjoyed our mentality, and I thought we had an outstanding first half. And the second half was punctuated by the big moment on that obstruction try. When you go back to the footage, Lood looked like he didn’t even change his line. So that was a huge moment, because we could have been back to 14 points ahead,” said Bulls coach John Mitchell afterwards.
Mitchell also lamented his team’s inability to finish off the Chiefs on three occasions within try-scoring range, and the obvious yellow card to replacement prop Conraad van Vuuren, which should have been a red for a late and swinging-arm tackle on Damian McKenzie.
Mitchell strongly believes that had his team performed as well in the second half as they did in the first, then they would have earned a rare victory in New Zealand and got their Super Rugby campaign back on track.
“And there was one area where we got a bit untidy was in the attacking 22 metres, where we were impatient and got no conversion out of the three times that we were in there in the second half.
“And the yellow was from stupidity which you can’t afford to do at this level. Get those things together, then you can finish off a match in New Zealand because they are not easy to win,” Mitchell said.
Chiefs 41 – Tries: Johnny Fa'auli, Brodie Retallick (2), Mitchell Brown, Solomon Alaimano, Anton Lienert-Brown. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (3). Penalty: McKenzie (1).
Bulls 28 – Tries: Warrick Gelant, Divan Rossouw (2), Handré Pollard. Conversions: Pollard (4).