The Vodacom Bulls returned to winning ways with a tough 26-20 victory over the Toyota Cheetahs in their Vodacom Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
But while they did stop their own three-match losing streak, and also end the Cheetahs magical five-match winning run, the Bulls would be far from happy with their own performance, which was once again too one-dimensional and riddled with mistakes.
The difference in the sides was ultimately Jano Vermaak, who showed in a glimpse why he is rated so highly and scored a sensational try shortly after halftime, swinging the momentum firmly in the Bulls' favour after a lacklustre first half which was hardly a showcase of South African rugby.
Vermaak’s try – a sniping run from a ruck where he saw a gap nobody else would have seen, ducked through the tackle of Lappies Labuschagne and pinned his ears back to beat both Robert Ebersohn and Hennie Daniller on the way to the line – was pure individual genius.
It was the type of try we became used to when Vermaak still ruled at the Lions and one that has been sadly missing since he was coached into the box-kick style that the Bulls employ.
The irony of it all was that the Bulls created more than enough chances, but their own conservatism held them back once more. On more than one occasion in the second half they threatened to get away, but found themselves bringing the Cheetahs in with a massive amount of basic errors – way more than this level of the competition should tolerate.
Steyn didn't have his best game, dropping balls and looking out of sorts, and while he has shown glimpses of his form of two years ago, one still has to wonder how much losing Fourie du Preez as his partner has done to his game?
The Cheetahs did what was expected of them. They came to play. They tried to speed up the game at every avenue, but found the Bulls' defence impenetrable most of the time. The one place they did rule was the breakdown, where they forced the Bulls into several penalties.
The Bulls were however, much better at the scrums, where the work they did this week clearly paid off. While there were several positives to take home on both sides, the desperation for both teams to win was apparent, and kept the scoreline down.
With referee Jason Jafta struggling to control the occasion, the Bulls quickly fell behind 6-0 after two early penalties before Steyn pulled them back to six-all.
Francis pulled his team ahead before halftime, but it was the Cheetahs' Achilles heel – the 10 minutes after the break – that swung things back in the favour of the home side.
It was Vermaak’s try that put the Bulls in front for the first time, and it was followed up by penalty to Steyn to put them further ahead. Francis pulled a penalty back to bring the scores to 16-12, as the Bulls continued to fail to take the ascendancy.
The percentage approach paid further dividends when Steyn forced another penalty but it was the Cheetahs who continued to fight back, with Trevor Nyakane forcing his way over for a try with 10 minutes to go.
With only two points in it, the game still was on a knife edge, and the Bulls finally grabbed the game by the scruff of its neck only in the 76th minute, when Callie Visagie forced his way over from close range.
The Cheetahs grabbed a late penalty to take a bonus point from the contest, which may help them in the long run.
But while the Bulls will breathe a sigh of relief at the victory, they’ll hardly celebrate the way they played on the night.
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Jano Vermaak, Callie Visagie. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2). Penalty: Steyn (4).
Toyota Cheetahs – Try: Trevor Nyakane. Penalties: Burton Francis (4), Francois Brummer.