The Vodacom Bulls underlined their status as South African conference leaders and sent out a chilling warning to other teams in the competition with a comprehensive 48-14 thrashing of the Hurricanes on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.
On a night where Morne Steyn equaled the Bulls' record of 115 appearances and both Flip van der Merwe and Francois Hougaard celebrated their half-century cap milestones, the home team not only managed to avert a South African blackwash in the weekend’s round, but grabbed a march on the other local teams with a massive victory.
The win lifts the Bulls back into third place overall, three points behind the Brumbies and Chiefs and now two ahead of the Cheetahs in the South African conference, with the Stormers and Sharks eight points adrift of them.
While there is no doubt there are still massive derbies ahead against the other three contenders, on the night the Bulls showed how to dominate the setpiece, and put their opposition under such pressure that the Hurricanes resorted to playing suicide rugby in order to compete.
It was hard to comprehend the message behind the Canes' first-half tactics. While the Bulls were sure to employ their slow poison and try and strangle the opposition, building an innings with Morne Steyn’s boot, the visitors seemed to have a run-at-all-costs mentality.
Many a side has come to Loftus and employed the tactic of trying to move the big Pretoria men around, and like any tactic, it has both its risks and limitations. Those that get it right get the reward, but it is also a tactic that seldom tends to work against the Bulls' big men.
If there was a penalty to pay in that first half, it was to try and play too expansively in the wrong areas. And here the Hurricanes failed miserably.
The Bulls' defence was exceptional, pinning the Canes in their own half for long periods, something which paid off with Morne Steyn slotting his first two penalties to give the Bulls an early 6-0 lead.
But the suicide rugby the Canes chose to employ in the first half played right into the Bulls' hands as first JJ Engelbrecht and later Akona Ndungane pounced on wild passes – one by Ben Franks and one by Tui Pisi – to extend the scoreline rather quickly.
Things would get worse for the Canes. They lost captain Conrad Smith when he was knocked cold as his head collided with Engelbrecht’s hip, and they looked rudderless throughout.
Good news though is that Smith suffered only a mild concussion and should be up and running soon.
The Bulls added a trademark lineout drive over the line between the two intercepts for Deon Stegmann to add his name to the scoresheet and leave the home side a clinical 27-0 up at the break.
There were definitely some hard words spoken in the visitors' changeroom at the break, and it took just 36 seconds in the second half for the Canes to find a gap, with TJ Perenara dotting down for the try.
For a moment it threatened to be a comeback, but the Hurricanes' hopes were not to be.
The Bulls surprised with their enterprise, taking a tap in the opposition 22 and spreading it wide. It was a move that caught the Canes and ended up with man of the match Dean Greyling sliding over from close range to restore the 27-point margin and secure the important bonus point in the process.
And even though Perenara scored a second a while later, it was never going to spark the comeback the Canes needed.
Their decision-making, ball-retention and game-plan was easy fodder for a Bulls side that looked scary on attack and played with panache, confidence and power.
Lionel Mapoe and Louis Fouche pushed the scoreline close to 50, and while the Canes may have some gripes about being blown off the park at the ruck – they conceded 11 of their 13 penalties at this phase – they will know they were given a rugby lesson at Loftus.
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: JJ Engelbrecht, Deon Stegmann, Akona Nudngane, Dean Greyling, Lionel Mapoe, Louis Fouche. Conversions: Morne Steyn (5), Fouche. Penalties: Steyn (2).
Hurricanes – Tries: TJ Perenara (2). Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2).