The Vodacom Bulls were hoping their first home game in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby competition would give them a win, a bonus point and a dollop of confidence ahead of their tour of New Zealand and Japan.
Instead they clawed their way home, 34-21, against a Sunwolves team that was more than a handful at times at Loftus Versfeld, reports Brenden Nel of Supersport.com
The Bulls had to play the entire second half with 14 men after Namibian captain Renaldo Bothma received a red card for a high shot on Sunwolves captain Ed Quirk. He is unlikely to join his teammates on the tour and will wait to hear his fate at the disciplinary hearing next week.
Even with the 14 men, the Bulls had way too much firepower against a stuttering Sunwolves outfit that made elementary errors at times, and made it look easy for the Bulls when the men in blue got things right.
But therein lies the rub. The Bulls talked the entire week about countering their own problems in their opening two losses of the season, that they were expected to use the home ground advantage well, and the return of several of their stars from injury to lift the side.
Instead they stumbled against a side they could have and should have put away earlier, and allowed their own game plan to still be full of question marks, as they head into unforgiving territory for the next fortnight in New Zealand.
To take away from the fighting spirit of the Sunwolves would be wrong as they displayed courage beyond their pedigree on their tour to South Africa. Under coach Filo Tiatia they have found a method of frustrating the South African teams.
But here was a game in which the Bulls needed to step up to the mark. While they will be happy with the win, it will be more relief than comfort, as there still seems to be something amiss with the team.
What was positive from their game was the return of Springbok Jan Serfontein to the field after eight months off through injury. While he was a bit rusty on defence, Serfontein certainly put his hand up as he scored a brace of tries and reminded so many why he was once the first choice Bok midfielder and so important to the national cause.
Serfontein scored the opening try off a horror knock on by Tim Lafaele in front of his own posts, but then capped it with a beauty of a run late in the game to score a second, even though the TMO had a long look if the pass from Ruan Steenkamp may have been forward.
Either way, if this was a taste of Serfontein’s return, the Bulls will be more than happy he is back on the field. Despite some critics unfairly writing him off, he still has a lot to offer both his team and the national team if he can go through the season unscathed.
There were also good performances for lock Jason Jenkins, prop Pierre Schoeman and Hanro Liebenberg, the hard-working No 8 who impresses with every game. Jenkins scored a great try in the second half, but blotted his copybook when he was about to score a second but lost the ball over the line when he simply needed to plant it down for the points.
Either way, his work-rate was exceptional and he continues to grow in stature despite his young age.
The Bulls scored their other try through a monster rolling maul where Schoeman took the spoils, but they weren’t able to get the bonus point they desperately wanted when Ed Quirk scored a late try to deny the hosts.
The best moment of the match belonged to the impressive winger, Kenki Fukuoka, hero of the Japanese sevens side at the Olympics and certainly making a name for himself, with a blindside break that floored Piet van Zyl’s defensive challenge on the stroke of halftime.
The Sunwolves, for all their bravery, let themselves down with poor passing and execution, often losing the ball at inopportune times and allowing the Bulls to just ease that bit away that they could eventually get the win.
The Bulls know they will have to up their game ahead of matches against the Blues and Chiefs, encounters that could become massive for them in the context of their season.
Somehow they will need to find their mojo.
That was supposed to happen at Loftus on Friday night. They got the win, but in the process didn’t convince too many people.
Vodacom Bulls – tries: Jan Serfontein (2) Pierre Schoeman, Jason Jenkins. Conversions: Handre Pollard (3), Tian Schoeman (1). Penalties: Pollard (1), Tian Schoeman (1)
Sunwolves – try: Kenki Fukuoka, Ed Quirk. Conversion: Jumpei Ogura. Penalties: Hayden Cripps (3)