Cape Town - It was a typically error-strewn early-season affair, but the Bulls eventually broke down the dogged Pumas defence to claim a 33-19 Currie Cup bonus-point victory at Mbombela Stadium on Friday night.
Bulls director of rugby Jake White, though, will be concerned by the number of basic errors made by such a strong team that will form the nucleus of the United Rugby Championship side against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld next weekend.
The defending champions just never got going on a rainy night in Mpumalanga, despite boasting a dominant scrum, where loosehead prop Gerhard Steenekamp won numerous penalties against Pumas tighthead Ig Prinsloo.
The Bulls were unable to capitalise as they wasted a number of attacking lineout opportunities. The Pumas were gritty in defence and stopped several driving mauls close to their line, while they were also able to force knock-ons with a couple of big hits.
The visitors’ hooker, Johan Grobbelaar, missed his target on some occasions as well, which halted the Bulls’ momentum upfront.
Keeping the ball in wet conditions through phase-play is one of the main goals that White wants to achieve with the Bulls in 2022, after witnessing first-hand how the likes of Irish sides Leinster and Connacht were able to play with a high tempo in any kind of weather.
But the backline lacked cohesion on attack when they did get the ball, where speedsters Kurt-Lee Arendse and Madosh Tambwe hardly received any possession to try and test the Pumas defence.
The home side lost lock Shane Kirkwood in the third minute to a shoulder injury, but that didn’t stop them from disrupting the Bulls at close quarters, with replacement second-rower Malembe Mpofu getting stuck in on defence alongside industrious No 5 Darrien Landsberg.
But it was the Bulls who had the initial scoring chances, with Tambwe denied a five-pointer after a superb finish in the corner, with the TMO ruling that he was in touch before grounding the ball.
The Pumas defence held firm to stop a number of Bulls charges at the line, but a bit of sloppy play from a five-metre scrum saw Embrose Papier pounce on the loose ball to score for Gert Smal’s side.
#PUMvBUL FULL-TIME: The whistle has been blown and the Vodacom Bulls get off to a firing start as they claim a 19-33 victory at Mbombela Stadium. Great fight by the home side, the Pumas. Well done, lads. #CarlingCurrieCup #TrueToTheBlue @Vodacom— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) January 14, 2022
📷GB Jordaan pic.twitter.com/ED561r9c7w
With a retreating scrum, the Pumas gave away too many penalties, and Bulls flyhalf Chris Smith extended the lead with two more three-pointers to make it 11-0 after 23 minutes.
Pumas No 10 Tinus de Beer slotted a penalty of his to put his team on the scoreboard, but missed another attempt before halftime, while an attacking lineout was also lost before the break.
De Beer closed the gap to five points with another goal-kick early in the second half, but after Smith increased the lead to 14-6, the Bulls took charge of the game when lock Ruan Nortje charged over after a strong run by No 8 Arno Botha.
The Pumas never gave up, though, and earned two more kickable penalties that De Beer converted to make it 21-12 to the Bulls in the final quarter.
With just over 10 minutes to go, though, Grobbelaar showed his class by bursting through the middle of a maul and holding off a couple of Pumas defenders to dot down.
The home side kept going to the end, and managed to secure a penalty try after the Bulls stopped their maul illegally – which saw prop Lizo Gqoboka handed a yellow card.
But Smal’s team finished off in fine style to claim the bonus point, with loose forward WJ Steenkamp going over following a tap penalty.
Pumas 19 – Try: Penalty Try. Penalties: Tinus de Beer (4).
Bulls 33 – Tries: Embrose Papier, Ruan Nortje, Johan Grobbelaar, WJ Steenkamp. Conversions: Chris Smith (2). Penalties: Smith (3).