The Bulls equalised twice in the second half to gain a gusty if possibly undeserved 22-all draw with the Blues in Auckland on Friday.
Eden Park’s downpour meant conditions suited Pote Human’s more practical game-plan, yet it was the hosts who dominated proceedings without gaining the rewards on the scoreboard.
In fact, they should’ve walked away with a narrow victory, but a 80th minute penalty by flyhalf Harry Plummer drifted wide comfortably.
Still, the Bulls’ determination couldn’t be faulted.
Who was the star in this match?
Given the wet conditions and how treacherous it made attacking rugby, Blues fullback Melani Nanai’s performance was outstanding. The imposing 25-year-old broke the line three times in gaining almost 100 running metres, making a mockery of the heavy field and slippery ball. He was ever present.
Key moments and themes
- Human noted in the build-up to the game that “soft moments” had undermined them last weekend against the Brumbies. While the improvement from Canberra was obvious, the Bulls still made life difficult for themselves with some frustrating moments on attack. A sweeping early move should’ve resulted in a try for Warrick Gelant, who inexplicably didn’t back his pace and rather opted to nudge the ball forward. Later, Libbok overcooked a penalty to touch before the bustling Lizo Gqoboka looked set in the second half to set up a score, only to have the ball ripped from him.
- Ironically, the men from Loftus also managed the (relatively) positive result through some incisive moments. Wing Cornal Hendricks’ try was brilliantly rounded off after flank Marco van Staden dominated a collision and then superbly wriggled his way out of the hit to gain more metres. Libbok, despite an inconsistent showing, also showed fine awareness to exploit a screaming gap left by the hosts from an attacking maul.
- The Blues will feel aggrieved that they fell victim to 2019’s curse of dominating proceedings but not getting the result. They had 62% possession and twice the amount of carries to the Bulls, yet were guilty of being too ambitious in the conditions, especially since they showed at some stages that they could thrive with a tighter game.
- The Bulls’ loose forward depth, boasted about in pre-season, will now be properly stretched after Paul Schoeman cried off with a knee injury.
Blues – Tries: Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Scott Scrafton, Akira Ioane. Conversions: Harry Plummer (2). Penalty: Plummer.
Bulls – Tries: Hanro Liebenberg, Cornal Hendricks, Manie Libbok. Conversions: Libbok (2). Penalty: Libbok.