The Bulls opened their 2018 Super Rugby account with a 21-19 victory over the Hurricanes in Pretoria on Saturday evening.
New coach John Mitchell has clearly had a significant influence on the Pretoria team, who played with passion throughout and looked wherever possible to offload to a supporting player – while on defence they showed total commitment.
After a patient build-up over the opening four minutes, Bulls wing Johnny Kotze was put away by a slick pass by Jesse Kriel. It was a real confidence-building try. Handre Pollard was unsuccessful with the conversion, but soon after nailed a penalty awarded because of a shoulder charge tackle by a Hurricanes player.
The Wellington team consolidated their play and after multiple phases they had worked themselves into an attacking position on the Bulls line, which saw hooker Ricky Riccitelli burrow over for a try after a lineout maul.
As the final quarter came to an end, the Hurricanes took the lead when wing Wes Goosen chipped over his opposite number, gathered and sprinted to the posts. The Ihaia West conversion made it 10-8 to the Hurricanes.
The momentum was shifting to the Hurricanes, especially when in the 25th minute prop Pierre Schoeman was carded for a swinging arm tackle.
The Bulls fought back, and a try by rampaging lock RG Snyman was disallowed because of a knock-on in the build-up, but ten minutes later Man of the Match Snyman broke through the midfield defence and set up a try-scoring pass for fellow lock Lood de Jager.
Pollard missed the conversion but the Bulls were in front heading into half-time, and a Pollard penalty on the hooter put them 16-12 in front.
The visitors seemed to have regained the lead minutes into the second half when a lunging TJ Perenara stretched the ball over the line, but the TMO ruled that the scrumhalf was not in control of the ball when it was grounded. It was a huge let-off for the Bulls.
The reprieve, however, was momentary as Perenara nudged a grubber into the Bulls’ in-goal area for substitute fullback Beaudon Barrett to gather and score, with the West conversion nudging his team three points clear at 19-16.
But eight minutes from time,a Bulls counter attack from their half resulted in a try for Schoeman, back from his sin-binning which would prove to be the winning score.
Bulls 21 (16): Tries: Johnny Kotze, Lood de Jager, Pierre Schoeman. Penalties: Handre Pollard (2).
Hurricanes 19 (12): Tries: Ricky Riccitelli , Wes Goosen, Beaudon Barrett. Conversions: Ihaia West (2).