Vodacom Bulls flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter celebrated a perfect return to Vodacom Super Rugby as he kicked 20 points as his team beat the Lions 25-17 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria to record their first victory in this year’s competition.
In a match played in constant rain and wet conditions, the Bulls will be happy to finally get some points on the board after opening losses against the Cell C Sharks and Toyota Cheetahs in the previous fortnight.
You’d have to forgive Bulls coach Frans Ludeke for wondering what he has to do to find a dry field on a match day, as all three the Bulls games have been in the wet thus far.
But for the first time in the wet, the Bulls looked a lot more comfortable, a lot more inclined to back themselves and a lot more confident. Perhaps it was the home field, the comfort of being in their beloved Pretoria, or the changes they had made in the week.
Either way, this was a typical Bulls display of old. There were few fireworks, little flair and even less enterprise.
But what they delivered was a masterclass of strangling the opposition and taking the points when it counted.
For the first time in the competition this year they had a flyhalf that exuded confidence, that looked settled and that controlled the game in the wet with ease.
Potgieter gave them the direction they had lacked all season, and helped build a scoreboard lead that was deadly as the clock ticked down.
And it wasn’t just there that the Bulls were better. Their scrum looked solid and the loose trio gelled for the first time as well.
Halfback Francois Hougaard looked a completely different player than the rattled nine in the opening rounds and for the first time in three games, the ball went down the backline.
In contrast, the Lions struggled to play against a side who assaulted them tactically. The Bulls defence was solid and their ball control good, and whereas the Lions had previously met a Cheetahs side that would run with abandon, and a Stormers side struggling to just put two passes together, the Loftus juggernaut was something completely different.
Too many mistakes in the rain, caused by the pressure of a ticking scoreboard, were the Lions' death knell on the evening.
The Bulls signaled their intentions early to build an innings and, capitalising on the Lions' mistakes, quickly had the scoreboard reading 6-0.
From the kickoff, a momentary lapse saw Stefan Watermeyer storm down Jurgen Visser’s kick and pounce for the visitors' opening try.
Strangely enough, both Lions’ tries came from charge downs, the second when Willie Wepener charged down Francois Hougaard’s attempted clearance late in the game. On no other occasion did they look remotely like threatening the Bulls' tryline.
Watermeyer’s try put the Lions in the lead, but it didn’t last long as five minutes later Akona Ndungane swooped onto a grubber kick, sent it to Jan Serfontein who launched a counter attack from within his own half.
Serfontein sent JJ Engelbrecht away, who, in turn, allowed Bjorn Basson to speed down the touchline before returning the telling pass to Serfontein for the try.
Marnitz Boshoff brought his side within three points as he slotted a penalty, but then Potgieter took over, turning almost every kickable penalty into points as the Bulls surged away in the second half.
A beautifully placed drop goal made it 16-10 and a penalty three minutes later made it 19-10 at the break with the Bulls looking good value for their points in the rain.
The second half remained a stalemate with not a point scored in the first 20 minutes, but Potgieter was soon back in action as two more penalties gave the Bulls an unassailable 25-10 lead.
Only Hougaard’s moment, when he didn’t see Wepener charging at him and the hooker stopping the ball with his face, made the scoreline more respectable.
Vodacom Bulls - Try: Jan Serfontein. Conversion: Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Penalties: Potgieter (5). Drop goal: Potgieter.
Lions - Tries: Stefan Watermeyer, Willie Wepener. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (2). Penalty: Boshoff.