Handre Pollard scored 16 points to guide the Vodacom Blue Bulls to a 26-10 (halftime 3-5) morale-boosting win over the travelling Toyota Free State Cheetahs in an Absa Currie Cup Premier Division match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Blue Bulls pivot slotted four penalties and two conversions, while only missing one long-range effort, to turn in a wonderful all-round performance.
The Bulls had suffered two heavy defeats in as many weeks and when the men from Pretoria entered the changeroom at halftime, things looked to be heading in the same direction, despite Pollard giving the home side a 3-0 lead after just two minutes when the Cheetahs were caught offside at a rolling maul.
The Cheetahs finally hit their straps in the 10th minute when Riaan Smit went over in the right-hand corner thanks to some brilliant hands from Johann Sadie.
The outside centre received the ball with the Bulls defence in his face, and promptly flicked the ball to Smit, who caught the ball brilliantly with one hand before diving over the line. Smit was unable to convert his own try from the touchline.
Although both teams were not able to add to their tallies during the first half, the Cheetahs gained the upper hand and looked dangerous on the counter-attack. Sarel Pretorius kept asking questions around the fringes while Elgar Watts kept the backline flowing nicely.
The Bulls were able to make a few runs into the Cheetahs area but were denied by a scrambling cover defence or by poor handling. The men in blue conceded 12 turnovers in the first half and around seven penalties, which stunted any hope of them mounting a challenge at scoring.
The Bulls must have been given a hard talking to at the break, especially Ruan Snyman. Once the scrumhalf stopped kicking the ball and using his backline more, the Bulls seemed to mutate into a different outfit.
In the space of 10 minutes, the Bulls went from being two points down to leading 12-5, thanks to the boot of Pollard and some indifferent play from the visitors. The Cheetahs were penalised just six minutes after the restart for illegal scrummaging.
Three minutes later Pollard converted his third attempt, although with some luck as the ball struck the left-hand upright and snuck over the cross bar. Two minutes later, Pollard had the chance to add three more points as the Cheatahs were penalised for being offside. But his attempt from the halfway line went past the right-hand upright.
The flyhalf was given another chance from the same distance as the Cheetahs were blown up for not releasing the ball. Pollard made no mistake this time as he made it 12-5 with just over 20 minutes to go.
The men from Bloemfontein decided to start running with the ball as they had done in the first half and began to look very dangerous. The Bulls defence sustained a period of strong attacking play from the visitors before they turned the ball over at scrum time.
The Bulls' resolute defence and change of attitude brought just reward when Paul Willemse used all of his 2-metre stature to reach for the tryline. Referee Stuart Berry referred it to the TMO and the try was duly awarded. Pollard added the two point to extend their lead to 12 points after 63 minutes.
The Cheetahs started counter-attacking and Watts used his nimble feet to step inside the defence and break the line. He then side-stepped another defender and beat the cover defence to score a fantastic try. Watts, like Smit, was unable to convert his own try, which left the visitors nine points adrift with just 10 minutes left on the clock.
But the Bulls finished off the game when they were awarded a penalty just seven metres from the Free State tryline. Pollard kicked the ball into touch to set up an attacking lineout. Wiaan Liebenberg controlled the ball excellently at the back of the driving maul to score the Bulls' second try, and his first of the season.
Pollard slotted the conversion to take his personal tally for the evening to 16 points, giving the Bulls a well-desereved 26-10 victory to move off the bottom of the log and above the Griquas.
Blue Bulls - Try: Paul Willemse, Wiaan Liebenberg; Conversions: Handre Pollard (2); Penalties: Pollard (4)
Free State - Tries: Riaan Smit, Elgar Watts.