Handre Pollard scored 20 points as his Vodacom Bulls juggernaut continued their quest for the playoffs with a workmanlike 28-12 victory over the DHL Stormers in their Vodacom Super Rugby game at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday night.
The slow poison effect that has caused so many a victory at Loftus for the Bulls underscored yet another win as the Bulls came back from an early 12-0 deficit to take control in the second half and take the points on offer with ease at the end.
Pollard’s rise continued and the faith placed in his abilities have been a massive part of the Bulls' success in their last two games, as the SA under-20 flyhalf clearly is growing in the position and offers them so much more than any flyhalf that has played in the blue jersey in the past few years.
It isn’t a surprise Pollard’s try against the Hurricanes this year was one of the best attacking plays we’ve seen this year from the Bulls and the promise that so many saw in him as a junior is beginning to flourish.
The win moved the Bulls into the eighth position on the log, and they have hauled in four points on the Sharks, who lost earlier in the day. But as they face a bye weekend, they are still eight behind the Durban team in the South African conference.
The Stormers tried valiantly but to be honest have had their resources sapped by so many injuries in a season they would easily want to forget.
Still there was enough promise from the likes of Scarra Ntubeni, Juan de Jongh and Nizaam Carr to show this team have not given up the fight just yet, and if you add the maturity of Schalk Burger’s vintage play then they have a solid base to work from.
But while they surged ahead early, capitalising on turnovers from the Bulls, it was not enough to give them a chance of victory, as the Bulls' aerial assault and all-round play was simply too good for the team from the Cape.
So many teams come to Loftus with the idea of either trying to run the Bulls off their feet or beat them in the kicking game. And when you see crafted magicians like Cheslin Kolbe kicking almost every ball he received you know the wrong approach was used.
The Bulls will probably point out they didn’t allow for any attack that wide of the mark, especially with a solid defensive system that kicked into play as soon as they sorted out the breakdown woes of the first few minutes.
It wasn’t surprising that the same problems in the breakdown crept in again, and the Bulls gave up any early advantage as the slick Stormers backline capitalised on two turnovers.
The first came from Carr as he scooped up a ball from the floor, and the turnover was sent wide to Burger, who put Kolbe away down the touchline. With the cross-defence arriving, Kolbe tossed the ball inside to De Jongh, who beat the last defender before sending Kurt Coleman over to score.
The second came from Ntubeni, after the Bulls left the ball unattended at the back of the ruck, and Ntubeni, being the tackler, got up and simply picked it up. The ball was sent wide to De Jongh, who took the gift and went over in the corner to make it 12-0.
At that stage the Loftus crowd was rather silent, but it didn’t take long for them to click into action and urge their team forward.
The Bulls pack started to take control – led by some massive hits by Paul Willemse, who is growing in stature in every game and ably assisted by Jacques du Plessis.
And when they rumbled, the cracks in the Stormers team started showing. The Bulls' first penalty was for a player not rolling away, and Pollard stepped up and took the points with ease.
It wasn’t long before Pollard reminded the Stormers of what they lost when he signed up north, banging a drop goal through, before following it up with two more penalties to go into halftime level on the scoreboard.
By that stage it was clear the tide had turned and the Bulls were in control up front.
It took just two minutes in the second half for Pollard to push the Bulls into the lead and 12 minutes later he added another, taking his tally to 18 points.
Still, it must be a concern that the Bulls haven’t been able to score four tries in many of their games this season.
Their only effort on the night was Francois Hougaard pumping a ball downfield after Siya Kolisi knocked it on, with Akona Ndungane showing he has lost little pace for his age by winning the race to score the try.
And with the race for the playoffs likely to be very tight this year, the lack of try-scoring bonus points may well come back to haunt them.
It all matters little though at the end of another north-south derby where the bragging rights remain in the north.
It was a good, solid effort from the Bulls and the scoreline tells a dominant story.
But they will need to get a lot better if they want to challenge for the title.
Vodacom Bulls - Try: Akona Ndugane. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (5), Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Drop goal: Pollard
DHL Stormers - Tries: Kurt Coleman, Juan de Jongh. Conversion: Coleman.