Cape Town - There was enough grind for the victory, but the Bulls will rue missing out on a bonus point in their 29-24 United Rugby Championship win over Munster at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The four log points now puts them an additional point behind the Sharks, who claimed a bonus-point triumph over the Scarlets on Durban on Friday night.
And the fact that the Bulls were leading 26-3 after 34 minutes and were still unable to score two more tries in the second half will hurt even more for coach Jake White.
A late red card to replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis gave Munster real hope of pulling off an improbable victory, but it was not to be for the men from Limerick.
The Pretoria side were well in control in the first half, and they were aided by Munster’s ill discipline at the breakdowns and general play as the Irish team got onto the wrong side of Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse’s whistle.
Munster just conceded too many penalties, with South African openside flank Chris Cloete blown up a few times at the ruck by Whitehouse, which gave the Bulls easy momentum upfront.
The South Africans used their driving maul to good effect to suck the energy out of the Munster forwards, but that came after the visitors had a try disallowed after 11 minutes.
In a well-worked lineout move five metres out, captain Jack O’Donoghue dotted down, but the referee called in the TMO and ruled that there had been a case of “double-banking”, where the jumper’s lifters got in front of him and blocked the Bulls from getting to the ball.
It wasn’t long before the Bulls scored their first try, which was sparked by the lethal No 15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, who kept the Munster defence busy all afternoon long.
Arendse darted down the left, before captain Marcell Coetzee surged ahead. Munster left Simon Zebo ripped the ball, which landed in Man-of-the-Match Madosh Tambwe’s hands, and the Bulls No 14 raced through to score.
The home side extended their lead to 16-3 through a Chris Smith penalty, but wasted a few excellent attacking opportunities that nearly proved costly in the end.
A yellow card to Munster No 8 Alex Kendellen for a no-arms tackle on Elrigh Louw made life easier for White’s team, and the Bulls pounced through lock Walt Steenkamp’s try after some thrilling running and passing from Lionel Mapoe, Coetzee, Ruan Nortje and Arendse.
Smith slotted another penalty early in the second half to stretch the lead to 29-3, but then Munster began their comeback. First it was Kendellen who forced his way over after a tap penalty, and with 15 minutes to go, Springbok centre replacement Damian de Allende chased a tap from a Bulls lineout and dotted the ball down ahead of Cornal Hendricks and Zak Burger to make it 29-17.
Things became tricky for the home side with 10 minutes to go when Du Plessis received his marching orders for lifting Kendellen above the horizontal line off the ball, and captain Jack O’Donoghue scored with seven minutes to give Munster a chance at 29-24.
But the Bulls managed to hold on for a scrappy victory in the end.
Bulls 29 – Tries: Madosh Tambwe, Walt Steenkamp. Conversions: Chris Smith (2). Penalties: Smith (5).
Munster 24 – Tries: Alex Kendellen, Damian de Allende, Jack O’Donoghue. Conversions: Ben Healy (3). Penalty: Healy (1).