The Vodacom Bulls produced a whirlwind first half, and then scored two later tries to whitewash the Southern Kings 34-0 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Bulls grabbed their bonus point after the hooter thanks to a lovely break by Bjorn Basson, who put fellow winger Akona Ndungane over to ensure the visitors left Port Elizabeth with a full complement of points, and top of the South African conference once again.
The victory will come as a massive boost for the Bulls, not only because they got their bonus point, but in the way they were able to use the width of the field at times, and had they not been denied twice in the first half, the scoreline could have been much higher.
In the end it was a clinical victory by a streetwise Bulls team, who not only exposed the Kings' weaknesses, but also burst the bubble of confidence they built up on their recent tour of Australia. But they may have had to pay dearly for the victory, with injuries to Jano Vermaak, Paul Willemse and Flip van der Merwe testing their reserve bench.
With the Kings thriving on confidence, the Bulls needed to strike early and strike hard if they were to keep themselves from getting into an arm-wrestle for the result at the end and they executed their game-plan perfectly.
While the Kings had talked about fronting up physically, the Bulls surprised them by moving the ball wide, speeding up the game and running the ball in the first half.
It wasn’t long before they were on the board, thanks to JJ Engelbrecht coming into the backline and taking out three defenders, with the recycled ball spinning wide to man of the match Jan Serfontein, who went over in the corner to open the scoring.
The Kings were looking for a close scrap, but they soon found out they weren’t going to get one. Morne Steyn extended the lead with a penalty to 10-0 before Vermaak scored one of the tries of the season, as the movement flowed from their own 22-metre area.
Running from their own danger zone, the ball went to Serfontein, who made 10 metres before getting shut down. But as he went to ground he flipped an audacious pop pass to Lionel Mapoe, who surged forward and popped one of his own to Vermaak, who had enough legs to make the last 40 metres to score the try.
It was a sensational score that will be remembered for a long time, and was a timely reminder of how this Bulls side can play if they decide to let the ball go past 10, and not kick for position most of the time.
The Bulls were denied when it looked as if Chiliboy Ralepelle had scored, but the TMO penalised Werner Kruger for a double movement. The decision fair, the Bulls moved on and almost scored again but with an open tryline and two players on his outside, Jurgen Visser lost the ball thanks to an excellent tackle by Luke Watson.
Watson did look out of sorts otherwise, and having missed several weeks because of injury, was perhaps a bit rusty. Still, the pressure the Bulls exerted also took its toll and Steyn upped the gap to 20-0 with a snap drop goal just before the break.
The Kings emerged a better side in the second half, but still couldn’t break the Bulls' defence. On countless occasions they made ground into the Bulls' half, only to lose the ball in a turnover – with Chiliboy Ralepelle particularly prevalent in this regard.
As the game went on and the Kings became more desperate, both Steyn and later Louis Fouche revelled as they put the ball into the corner to keep the pressure on the home side.
With the clock ticking down, it seemed the Bulls were going to miss out on their bonus point, but a late surge at the line saw Jacques Potgieter cross in the 76th minute and with the hooter buzzing, the Kings lost the ball, allowing the Bulls to send it wide to Basson, who used the space and cut inside, carving up the defence.
He passed the ball inside to Ndungane, who went another 20 metres to score, and even though the TMO had to confirm the try, it was given and the Bulls could celebrate their bonus point.
As for the Kings they were taught a lesson in Super Rugby on the night, one which they will learn from. The Bulls came with the right game plan and executed it perfectly.
And the five points they took home would be a perfect arrival present for Frans Ludeke’s triplets that were born earlier in the week.
Southern Kings –
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Jan Serfontein, Jano Vermaak, Jacques Potgieter, Akona Ndungane. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2), Louis Fouche (2) . Drop goal: Steyn. Penalty: Steyn.