The Vodacom Bulls produced a superbly controlled performance to upset the odds and record their first ever victory in Auckland, beating the Blues 28-21 at Eden Park on Sunday.
Bulls captain Pierre Spies led from the front as his side racked up a good first-half lead, shut down the Blues attack and played their hearts out to take the victory – their maiden one at the stadium in Vodacom Super Rugby.
The win made it a perfect weekend for South African teams against their New Zealand counterparts. Wins by the Cheetahs and Stormers earlier against Kiwi opposition would have served as motivation for the Bulls, whose win simply topped the great weekend of results off.
The fact that the Bulls chose to leave South Africa only on Tuesday, and arrived in New Zealand only at midnight on Wednesday, made the win even more exceptional, especially as the Blues had been one of the standout New Zealand sides, winning two from two before this match.
Buoyed by their victory, the Bulls will now face the struggling Crusaders in Christchurch – a venue where they were the last South African team to win way back in 1997, but they will be filled with hope at the way they played at Eden Park.
It showed that with the right game-plan, a perfect balance and some great execution, no team is unbeatable, even with a massive travel factor brought into it.
And led by Spies, who had possibly his best game in two years, and a pack that gave no quarter, the Bulls ensured that the Blues' attacking weapon was blunted to the extent that it looked impotent for most of the game.
The two locks, Juandre Kruger and Flip van der Merwe, had huge games, as did Arno Botha while Akona Ndungane and Wynand Olivier at the back.
Baden Kerr led the early exchanges, leaving the Blues 6-3 up after two early penalties, but it wasn’t long before the Bulls found some ball and managed to find some easy holes in the Blues' defence.
A great chase by Ndungane won the ball in the 18th minute, where it was sent wide to Lionel Mapoe to go over in the corner and put the Bulls in the lead.
From there on the Blues looked to have little answer to the stern defence and Bulls' stingy approach to giving away ball.
While the kicking game was accurate, the Bulls spread the ball wide more than expected and tested the young Blues defence at every opportunity, often finding it wasn’t that strong.
It didn’t take long for another gap to come, this time through a beauty of a charge-down before the ball was sent wide to Ndungane, who stepped inside to score and put his team 15-6 up.
The Bulls continued to dominate the first half and would have been disappointed not to have more of a lead at the break, especially as they had almost 70 percent of the ball and were up on the Blues' line a number of times.
It looked as if they may rue their missed opportunities as the Blues pulled back a penalty early in the second half, before Charlie Piutau scored after a defensive blunder by the Bulls on their own line.
At 16-15 the Blues had retaken the lead and questionmarks were being offered as to the long trip and short preparation time the visitors had before the game, and whether they would have enough in the tank to come back.
But the Bulls replied almost immediately, taking the ball from a lineout to see Olivier make a beauty of a clean break, before passing to Ndungane.
The crux of the move came through a stunning pickup at his bootlaces for Werner Kruger, who ensured the Bulls continued their forward momentum.
A few recycled phases later and Arno Botha was on his way untouched to score the try to reclaim the lead.
The Bulls had opportunities to score the bonus-point try, but settled for a Steyn penalty to take them beyond the seven-point margin, although the Blues did score a beauty of a try near the end when Rene Ranger showed how dangerous he is after being put into space and dotted down after bumping off Zane Kirchner with ease.
The Bulls held on, and secured a penalty on fulltime, with Steyn slotting the kick to ensure the victory in Auckland was assured, and kept the Bulls on their unbeaten start to the 2013 season.
Blues – Tries: Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger. Conversion: Baden Kerr. Penalties: Kerr (3).
Bulls – Tries: Lionel Mapoe, Akhona Ndungane, Arno Botha. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (3).