Bulls claim first win at Eden Park
March 10, 2013
Wynand Olivier and the Bulls overpowered the Blues
The Blues' momentum shuddered to a halt on Sunday afternoon, the Bulls overpowering and out-thinking the early-season pacesetters in the first half before withstanding a fierce second-stanza comeback to claim their first Super Rugby win at Eden Park.
The Bulls did not impress everyone in their opening victories against the Stormers and Western Force, while the Blues had defeated the Hurricanes and the Crusaders in style to provide fans with genuine belief that they could contend for the title; but the Blues were fractured and disjointed in the first half, after coach Sir John Kirwan had made six changes to the starting team that had dispatched the Crusaders, and ultimately they gifted their opponents too much leeway.
"We didn't turn up," Blues captain Ali Williams said of his team's efforts in the first half. "Piss poor to be honest. I'm gutted. We'd earned some respect and then we've just lost it. We've got ourselves to blame. We didn't attack. We didn't play the game that we trained. It's a good learning curve. We're gutted. We're pissed off."
Bulls captain Pierre Spies, conversely, was very happy, saying: "We'll be thankful and humble. It's a great team effort to come here and win. In the second half, we felt we just had to be clinical against a team like the blues. They've got some aggressive runners with ball in hand. It was a clinical performance, a really hard effort."
The visitors were powerful and precise with ball in hand in the opening quarter, close to and through the ruck and particularly when they elected to go wide: they stretched the Blues and tries in opposing corners from wingers Lionel Mapoe and Akona Ndungane were the least they deserved from their performance that dominated possession and territory in the first half.
Kirwan said at half-time that his players had lacked "passion and pride" in the first stanza, that "you can't play football when you're getting bashed up", and the Blues were much improved in the second half after what was clearly a stern address from the coach at the interval.
They were first to score in the second half, through the boot of fly-half Baden Kerr after Bulls prop Frik Kirsten was penalised for a scrum infringement, and then claimed the lead through a try from Charles Piutau, the fullback slicing though the Bulls' defence to cap a flowing backline move after powerful phase play.
The Bulls hit back immediately with a try from Arno Botha after phases following a searing break from Ndungane and wonderful, desperate hands from replacement prop Werner Kruger, and extended their advantage when the Blues conceded a penalty through Kerr for a high tackle.
Each team then had opportunities to score tries: first Blues replacement prop Angus Taavao-Matau dropped the ball with the tryline gaping; then Bulls half-back Jano Vermaak dropped the ball over the line under serious pressure a couple of phases after a length-of-the-field counter-attack launched from the base of a scrum by No.8 Pierre Spies.
The Blues gave themselves hope of an unlikely comeback win when Rene Ranger outstripped the defence and ran over the top of a tackle to score in the corner after good lead-up work from fellow centre Francis Saili, but the Bulls showed discipline and composure to close out the game with a penalty goal from Morne Steyn, with the last kick of the game, rounding out the score.
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