The Bulls left Hamilton with a 33-19 Super 14 win over the Chiefs on Friday, reclaiming the number one spot in the process.
The Bulls left Hamilton with a hard-fought 33-19 win over the Chiefs on Friday, reclaiming the number one spot on the Super 14 ladder in the process.
In an energy-sapping encounter, the Bulls were made to work over-time for their first win over the Chiefs in New Zealand and their second on the road this season.
It was a determined effort from the home side, and certainly wasn't the blowout that occurred when the two teams met in last year's final in Pretoria. Far from it in fact, as the Chiefs let the game slip from their grasp only ten minutes from the end.
The Round Nine loss, the fourth of the Chiefs' campaign and their third at home, will now seriously dent their semi-final hopes as they drop down to seventh on the table.
The Bulls – whose six-match winning streak was snapped last weekend by the Blues – recaptured their winning form by scoring four tries. The lead changed hands six times in the first 55 minutes before the visitors took charge with late tries by hooker Gary Botha and flank Dewald Potgeiter.
It wasn't clinical and the two late scores gave the end result a flattering look. But away victories are seldom aesthetically pleasing and bonus-point victories on the road are a rarity.
Morne Steyn had a poor night with the boot kicking just three from five penalties and two of the four conversions. Likewise, Stephen Donald missed some simple penalty chances for the Chiefs when the game was in the balance, although he did convert Brendon Leonard's first-half try.
There was little to split the teams in a tight opening spell that the Bulls shaded 15-13.
Although the visitors outscored their opponents two tries to one in the first 40 minutes, an uncharacteristic poor kicking display by Steyn and poor discipline allowed Donald to keep the Chiefs in touch with two penalties shortly before the break.
Having seen the success the Blues had last week in taking on the Bulls up front, the Chiefs adopted a similar game-plan attacking the South Africans' attempts to drive from the line-out from the start with some reward.
After an early penalty miss from Steyn, the Bulls did not have to wait much longer to get on the scoreboard with wing Gerhaard van den Heever diving over by the posts in the ninth minute.
Having got little reward from their driving mauls off the line-out, the Bulls opted for quick ball off the top and a neat tap from Steyn found the hard-running Van den Heever in the gap and the young wing charged to the line leaving his fly-half with a simple conversion which he surprisingly missed.
An error at the back by the Bok pivot, who failed to gather the loose ball, then gifted a try to Chiefs scrum-half Leonard and Donald added the conversion to put his side in front.
Steyn and Donald, playing at inside centre for the second week running, then traded penalties before the Bulls got some good continuity on attack which resulted in number eight Pierre Spies charging over in his 50th Super 14 match.
Steyn's conversion opened up a five-point gap but two Donald penalties late in the half – and another miss by Steyn – gave the Bulls a narrow lead at the break.
The second half was initially a battle between the two goal-kickers as the Chiefs centre struck two early three-pointers only for the Bulls to come back through Steyn's boot again to reclaim the lead.
The South Africans reverted to their more conservative game-plan, content to hoof the ball down field and make the Chiefs attack from inside their own half.
In the end the game was blown open by Bulls scrum-half Fourie du Preez whose charge up field set up the decisive try for hooker Botha.
When Tim Nanai-Williams – who came in for the injured Mils Muliaina at full-back – stopped Du Preez just short of the line, the ball was recycled and Botha barged over under the posts and Steyn added the straightforward conversion.
Du Preez thought he had scored a breakaway try in the 71st minute only for the Bulls to be penalised in back play for a Deon Stegmann late tackle on Sione Lauaki and the five points to be ruled out.
Donald missed ensuing penalty kick from bang in front and the Bulls took full advantage as they finished strongly with Potgieter claiming the bonus-point try in the dying minutes.
Man of the match: The Bulls' athletic number eight Pierre Spies had a monstrous game in a great tussle with opposite number Sione Lauaki. Spies had good support from fellow loose forwards Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann while rugged lock Danie Roussow gave them plenty of momentum. But it's scrum-half Fourie du Preez that wins our vote after producing a superb all-round performance that included setting up two crucial tries for a vital win on the road.
Pens: Donald 4
Tries: Van den Heever, Spies, Botha, Potgieter
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 3
Chiefs: 15 Tim Nanai-Williams, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Dwayne Sweeney, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Vern Kamo, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Colin Bourke 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Callum Bruce, 22 Jackson Willison.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 GurthrÃ¶ Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Jaco van der Westhuyzen.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan
Assistant referees: Kane McBride, Shane McDermott
TMO: Ben Skeen