It wasn’t pretty, but it sure was effective as the Vodacom Blue Bulls bludgeoned their way to a 26-13 victory over DHL Western Province to keep their Absa Currie Cup hopes alive.
In the process, the Bulls stopped Allister Coetzee’s teams from posting a clean sweep over their northern rivals this year, after the Cape sides won both Super Rugby fixtures and the first-round match at Newlands.
But on Friday night the Bulls needed a win. Facing the prospect of a promotion-relegation game, the Bulls were desperate and determined, and showed their single-mindedness by not even bothering to look for a bonus point for tries.
Any and every opportunity was survival of the fittest, and the Bulls wanted their points.
There was also a sense of occasion for the Bulls – their last home game of the season, the 50th cap for lock Wilhelm Steenkamp and possibly the last game at Loftus for CJ Stander.
In the midst of all the emotion it was also easy to forget that 21 years ago to the day, former Bulls prop Jan Lock passed away in the changeroom before the game against the same Western Province, but a fitting way to remember his memory.
But while the history between the two sides is filled with legendary stories, this game will not go down as a classic.
In the context of the season though, it serves as a lifeline for the Blue Bulls and allows them to still have a chance of making the competition semifinals.
Led from the front by captain Dewald Potgieter, the Bulls showed intense purpose as they met every single Western Province drive head on, and drove them back, while hammering at the much-vaunted Province defence which leaked only one try.
But despite both sides trying to move the ball, this was never going to be a try-festival, and with good defence and an irritated whistle of referee Jonathan Kaplan at the helm, the game eventually became a quest of who would blink first.
The Bulls were unlucky not to score the first try, as Bjorn Basson unbelievably kept his feet inside the touchline in the narrowest of corridors, while surging to the line.
But with the TMO protocols, a forward pass was found by JC Fortuin some two passes back, even though from several angles it looked like rather a harsh call.
Basson was on hand a few minutes later as the Bulls extended their lead, handing the try-scoring pass to Akona Ndungane, who crashed over to confirm once again that he is playing some of the best rugby of his life.
From there on the Bulls were ahead and intent on keeping it that way.
Every opportunity they got close to the line, they left Louis Fouche to kick over. And while the flyhalf’s options were sometimes wanting, his kicking at posts was top notch.
Kaplan awarded a penalty try after the Bulls collapsed the maul for the third time late in the second half, opening a glimmer of hope for the visitors, but the Bulls soon closed that loophole with two late penalties to seal the game.
It was a win of character, and while questions have to be asked about Province’s Currie Cup quest after two consecutive losses now, this was a night the Bulls will savour.
They got the job done and kept their hopes alive. That was all that mattered.
VODACOM BLUE BULLS: Try: Akona Ndungane. Penalties: Louis Fouche (7).
DHL WESTERN PROVINCE: Try: Penalty try. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (2).