A hat-trick from Springbok winger Bjorn Basson was enough as the Bulls thrashed the Melbourne Rebels 45-25 at Loftus on Saturday.
Basson ran in three tries as the Bulls extended their record of having not lost to the Rebels at this venue. The home side however were denied a bonus point as they fail to score three more tries than the Rebels, despite at one stage being up 42-3 in the second half.
The Bulls, boasting an all-Springbok front row, took a commanding lead in the first half. Marcel van der Merwe, Trevor Nyakane and captain Adrian Strauss were all impressively involved in the first half tries.
Some skillful handling from the front-rowers at crucial attacking times allowed the Bulls to always remain in the driving seat.
The Rebels however did respond with three quick tries in a space of 10 minutes. However fully completing what would have been a miraculous comeback always looked like too much to ask, with the Bulls never in danger of losing their commanding position.
The Rebels took an early 0-3 lead after a Jack Debreczeni penalty. The confidence that stemmed from that strike however was short-lived as a comedy of errors, metres from their own try line, handed posession back to the home side.
Slick offloading between the Bulls forwards involving number eight Arno Botha, hooker Strauss and prop Nyakane resulted in Bjorn Basson crashing over in the corner. Francois Brummer made no mistake with the conversion.
Former All Black Adam Thomson unbelievably lost the ball as he was about to dot down, with no pressure coming from full-back Warrick Gelant as the number eight should have regained the lead for visitors.
In similar fashion to the Basson try, the forwards combined in open play this time it was Nic de Jager who went over in the same corner, Brummer adding the extras to make it 14-3.
A missed penalty attempt late in the half was the only real opportunity that the Rebels had after the Thomson fumble.
Van der Merwe displayed some sleek handling skills as he collected a Burger Odendaal chip kick, off his feet, and then managed to offload sending Travis Ismaiel in for his first Super Rugby try.
Nyakane and van der Merwe were also involved in the build up to the fourth try, Jannes Kirsten going over in the corner this time after confirmation from the TMO that there was no knock-on in the build-up. The teams headed into the changing rooms after Brummer added the extras, with the Bulls in an impressive position at 28-3.
Two quick tries minutes into the second half from Basson to secure his hat-trick saw the Bulls establish an unexpectedly large lead. at 42-3.
But the visitors responded almost immediately with two consecutive tries, Jonah Placid and scrum-half Ben Meehan going in for the Rebels.
The momentum shifted away from the Bulls following the Rebels' tries with the Australians going over for their third score in under ten minutes.
Hooker James Hanson dotted down, reducing the home side's lead, but Debreczeni continued to struggle off the tee.
The pace at which the game was played took it's toll on both sides as the match approached the final 15 minutes. The Bulls held onto possession, setting up numerous attacking phases deep inside Rebels territory before Brummer was successful with a penalty attempt.
A quick tap-and-go from the Rebels deep inside their own half saw them work their way up field and scoring again through scrum-half Meehan to make it 45-25, meaning that the Bulls no longer had a bonus point according to the new bonus point try system.
Despite late efforts to restore that three-try advantage the Bulls couldn't find a seventh try, settling instead for a big win.
Tries: Basson 3, de Jager, Ismaiel, Kirsten
Cons: Brummer 6
Tries: Placid, Meehan 2, Hanson
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Reece Hodge, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Sean McMahon (c), 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Steve Cummins, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Mick Snowden, 22 Jonah Placid, 23 Dan Hawkins.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)