The Chiefs ran circles around an out-of-sorts Bulls defence running in six tries on their way to a 43-27 victory in Rotorua on Saturday.
Supperrugby reports that the home side had threatened to unleash their pacy backs all season and the Bulls tactics of kicking away the majority of possession played right into their hands, allowing for an almost constant barrage of counter-attacks.
To add to the defending champions’ woes, makeshift fullback Morne Steyn was often caught out of position allowing Chiefs inside backs Brendon Leonard and Stephen Donald to gain the upperhand in the tactical game and ensure that most of the game was played on or past the Bulls’ 22-metre line.
Despite this the Bulls got off to an encouraging start with centre Wynand Olivier crossing for a well-worked try halfway through the first half. A conversion and a penalty by flyhalf Derick Hougaard stretched the early lead to ten points.
It was the visitors that have done almost all the tackling up to that point, though, and it was only a matter of time before the cracks would start to show. Bulky no. 8 Sione Lauki created the Chiefs’ first try when he chipped over a flat Bulls defence, re-gathered and sent Leonard off to score.
Centre Callum Bruce was next on the score-sheet, slamming the ball down on the stroke of halftime. Donald converted and the teams jogged back to the dressing rooms with the score 12-10 in favour of the Chiefs.
Scrumhalf Leonard scored his second try soon after the restart, tapping a short-arm penalty and scrambling through a handful of confused Bulls tacklers. This was followed by sweeping move across the width of the field to put Dwayne Sweeney over in the right-hand corner. Speedster Lelia Masaga was next to score as he ran around Bulls Hooker Derick Kuun to complete a period of complete one-way traffic and a 22-point swing.
Two tries against the run of play halfway through the second half brought with it some promise of a Bulls comeback, but that thought was crushed when Liam Messam bumped off a half-hearted Danie Rossouw tackle to cross for a very soft try on the 70-minute mark.
The Chiefs can take a lot of confidence from putting six tries past the men from Pretoria, beating them for the first time since 2004.
“It was a great effort,” Chiefs captain Mils Muliana said. “We went away during the week, looked at our game and changed a few things. The tight five really set it up tonight for us guys at the back. Our set piece improved a lot on recent weeks and we showed what we can do with good set pieces.”
The Bulls management, on the other hand, will see nothing but alarm bells when the look at replays of this fixture. Apart from the wasteful kicks and an outfoxed back three, their once-vaunted pack was pushed all over the field, managing to secure only a meagre one third of possession. The breakdowns remained a mess while, once again, too many first-time tackles were missed.
“It makes it very tough for us but we just have to take it on the chin and look forward to next week,” captain Fourie du Preez said.
Tries: Brendon Leonard 2, Callum Bruce, Dwayne Sweeney, Lelia Masaga, Liam Messam
Conversions: Stephen Donald
Penalty: Stephen Donald
Tries: Wynand Olivier, Deon Stegmann, Akona Ndungane
Conversions: Derick Hougaard
Penalty: Derick Hougaard
Drop Goal: Derick Hougaard