The Bulls claimed a bonus-point 41-14 win over the Sharks in their Super Rugby Unlocked match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night and it was exactly the sort of clinical, hard-hitting performance coach Jake White has been waiting for.
The commanding display by the Bulls was made even more impressive by the fact that they initially struggled, being pushed back in the scrums and losing momentum through the penalties they conceded in that set-piece, and they also had problems again at the breakdowns, where the Sharks came hard at them.
But by the end of the match, both those problem areas had been emphatically fixed.
The Sharks had the misfortune to lose tighthead prop Thomas du Toit to injury after half-an-hour, and with Springbok Trevor Nyakane replacing Marcel van der Merwe in the Bulls front row around the same time, the visitors lost their edge in the scrums. By the end of the match, the Bulls were camped in the opposition 22, winning a succession of scrum penalties.
Led by Marco van Staden, but with fellow loose forwards Duane Vermeulen and Elrigh Louw also contributing strongly, the Bulls also turned the tide at the breakdowns.
Otherwise, it was a typically physical display by the Bulls and they put their bodies on the line in ferocious fashion, in a hard-fought match full of brutal, often bloody, collisions.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn gave a top-class display of tactical kicking, even if it was a mediocre night by his high standards when it came to kicking for poles – the veteran succeeding with five out of seven shots.
The Bulls were leading 17-9 at the break and, after Louw won the breakdown penalty, it was Steyn’s superb kick right into the corner that allowed the Bulls to get a maul rolling and Van Staden grabbed his second try.
The Sharks pulled back to 14-24 down when hooker Dylan Richardson, a standout player for the visitors, powered over, but Steyn settled the contest with a brilliant grubber into space that was gathered by wing Kurt-Lee Arendse, who took the tackle and then offloaded for Stedman Gans to score his second try.
It was also a strong defensive performance by the Bulls, who showed patience and faith in their system.
Bulls: Tries – Stedman Gans (2), Marco van Staden (2), Marco Jansen van Vuren, Embrose Papier. Conversions – Morne Steyn (4). Penalty – Steyn.
Sharks: Try – Dylan Richardson. Penalties – Curwin Bosch (3).