The Vodacom Bulls produced a gritty performance as they stopped a three-game losing streak and downed the Jaguares 26-13 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
Given the outcry after their loss to the Sunwolves in Tokyo a week earlier, the fact they had won only one of their six games in the competition in a nightmare run before this and the pressure on coach Nollis Marais’s shoulders going into the game, the win will come as a relief more than anything else.
Loftus Versfeld – albeit a small but boisterous crowd that turned up in the cold to support the Bulls – still remains the team’s best ally as both their wins now in the competition have come at home, with a long run of games to come.
The win couldn’t have come at a better time for Marais, who this week had to explain the team’s run to the board and was under pressure not only to get the side to win, but to reverse the rot that had set in, despite the team boasting much more talent than they’ve shown this year.
That is why while the game wasn’t pretty – and let’s be honest the Jaguares tend to bring opposition teams down to an arm wrestle – the result was the only thing that will matter in the Bulls changeroom afterwards.
It was a night where the Bulls would have wanted their best to stand up and be counted, and none more so than prop Trevor Nyakane and fullback Jesse Kriel.
While both have been quiet this season, Nyakane was by far the most industrious forward on the park, making 10 tackles and grabbing three turnovers at ruck time – all of them crucial as the Bulls were on defence.
Add to that a solid performance in the scrum against one of the best in the competition, and Nyakane can hold his head up high.
Kriel was exceptional on attack, breaking the line three times and putting in a solid defensive effort.
For the first time in a long time, Loftus fans caught a glimpse of the Kriel that is so highly rated and his runs were magical.
Both players were ably supported by a 16-point haul by flyhalf Handre Pollard, whose kicking was flawless on the night, and a nippy Piet van Zyl, who troubled the Jaguares defence at every opportunity.
In short it was a much better performance, fuelled almost on desperation, that brought the Bulls together for a victory that will relieve some of the pressure for now.
Pollard opened the scoring with a penalty, but it was Van Zyl’s break that gave the Bulls the first opportunity to gain a good lead.
The nippy halfback found the gap and darted, was stopped on the 22, only to watch as Travis Ismaiel jinked left and right to score the first try of the game.
Another Pollard penalty gave his side a solid 13-3 lead at the halftime break, and he added another penalty shortly afterwards to ensure the Bulls have a healthy lead.
But the Jaguares are nothing if not a gritty side, and they were determined, making inroads with their forwards before Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias offloaded to scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou who scored in the corner.
The Bulls gave away a crucial penalty for Iglesias to narrow the lead to three, and for a moment it seemed as if they were going to let the game slip.
But then another Kriel break brought them back to life, taking the Bulls to the 22, before Pollard grubbered through for Warrick Gelant to collect.
Gelant passed a simple inside pass to Lood de Jager, with the big lock getting the try that basically settled the game in the home side’s favour.
A late Pollard penalty secured the spoils for the Bulls, and they headed back to the changeroom happy to reverse the losing streak, but knowing that one swallow doesn’t make a summer.
Vodacom Bulls – tries: Travis Ismaiel, Lood de Jager. Conversions: Handre Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (4)
Jaguares – try: Gonzalo Bertranou. Conversion: Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias. Penalties: Iglesias (2)