Blues put away the Bulls

Date published: May 15 2015

George Moala's late try in the second half clinched a sweet victory for the Blues as they saw off the Bulls 23-18 at Eden Park on Friday.

2015 really has been a miserable year for the Blues but win or lose, they showed plenty of grit and effort to contain the Bulls forward pack. Deservedly however the scoreboard did go their way for only a third victory of the season.

As for the Bulls, the South African Conference leaders have bigger tests than this to come on their tour against the Chiefs and Brumbies and this will have been a bitterly disappointing start, having not made the most of their multiple chances.

Despite completely dominating the territory stats in the first half, at one point with 84 percent of it, the Bulls in fact trailed their hosts 13-16 at half-time.

Every time the Blues had a sniff of an opportunity in Bulls territory early on they tended to come away with the points, with Ihaia West on song with the boot as the visitors' indiscipline let them down.

Twice their captain Pierre Spies was penalised at the breakdown, his second offence allowing West to put the home side into the lead at the interval.

Power was always going to be the first option for Frans Ludeke's side and their rolling maul started and finished with great intent, being held up over the line by Jamison Gibson-Park and also having a try scratched off for Marcel van der Merwe due to an obstruction.

Eager to take something out of their opening salvo, Handré Pollard knocked over his first penalty, but West countered immeditately after Spies offended five metres out from his posts.

Working with such little possession the Blues defence was stretched repeatedly, with West going offside to allow Pollard a second shot at the posts for three more points.

A costly mistake from the Springbok fly-half though put the Blues into the lead for the first time. Pollard missed touch shortly after the restart and lightning full-back Lolagi Visinia ghosted past Van der Merwe to score a fine solo try. West's conversion made it 10-6.

The Bulls instantly responded by soaking up possession and trying to wear the Blues down through a sequence of big scrums and mauls, despite James Parsons getting the crowd excited with an interception break.

Real determination from Jan Serfontein however created a first try for the visitors, as he put them in position for an attack and Pollard's clever run and offload put his Springbok team-mate over the try line.

Pollard's conversion made it 13-10 but then two quick penalties from West put the hosts ahead at half-time, with the Bulls left scratching their heads at how they were behind after so much good field position.

They shrugged that off with a fine second try from their backs, Serfontein doubling his tally after JJ Englebrecht's break created the chance as the Bulls had too many numbers out wide for the Blues defence to contain them.

A missed conversion from Pollard meant the Bulls only held a two-point advantage but the loss of Steven Luatua to injury was another major blow for the home side, whose stocks in the back row are being tested with Luke Braid and Jerome Kaino already on the sidelines.

West's clever kick into the corner began a sequence of phases where the Blues dominated territory for a change, with the Bulls opting to try and run the ball clear rather than kick initially as they were put under pressure.

More threatening carries from the outstanding George Moala kept the Bulls under huge pressure as the Blues looked to pick up some points from a long attack, ending with Moala darting over from close range after his centre partner Francis Saili's break through the defence. West's conversion made it 23-18.

Saili could have buried the Bulls after he kicked through following some loose passing, but the ball just wouldn't bounce into the Munster-bound centre's hands.

The Bulls scrum did continue to churn out penalties but now the clock was working against them, as a converted try or two quick penalties were required to get the victory.

Saili's crucial penalty win at the breakdown however ended any chances of a comeback, as the Blues picked up a much-needed win with a strong performance to the delight of their players and fans.

The scorers:

For Blues:
Tries: Visinia, Moala
Cons: West 2
Pens: West 3

For Bulls:

Tries: Serfontein 2

Cons: Pollard

Pens: Pollard 2

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Steven Luatua (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sam Pratley, 19 Will Lloyd, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jimmy Cowan/Jamie Booth, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt Vaega.

Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Deon Stegmann, 21 Burger Odendaal, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 Travis Ismaiel.

Date: Friday, May 15
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST, 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Aki Aso (Japan)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)