Bulls make swift return to top of table

The Bulls defeated the Cheetahs 51-34 in a clash on Friday to begin the new Super 14 mini-league season where they ended the last one by topping the table.

The defending champions collected four points for winning plus a bonus point for scoring six tries to take a one-point advantage over other opening-day winners Canterbury Crusaders of New Zealand and ACT Brumbies of Australia.

“We displayed a lot of character, experience and calmness after the Cheetahs scored a try so early in a very quick game and it was a good win,” boasted Bulls skipper and Springbok lock Victor Matfield.

Opposite number, flanker and fellow Bok Juan Smith countered: “We hit back well in the second half through two tries within a few minutes, but it was not enough in the end.”

After conceding a try within 20 seconds of the kick-off—the third fastest in Super history—the Bulls calmly went about their business in pursuit of a third title within four years and led 23-14 at half-time.

A couple of tries by the Pretoria franchise in their first Southern Hemisphere championship encounter for many years without Western Stormers signing Bryan Habana stretched the gap to 37-17 and the contest appeared over.

But the Cheetahs, who finished bottom of the table last season, hit back with two tries and trailed 37-31 when the floodlights went out 15 minutes into the second half at Soccer World Cup venue Vodacom Park.

Within a minute of play resuming official man of the match Wynand Olivier crossed the line for the Bulls fifth try and established a 13-point lead that was never seriously threatened in 30° sauna-bath conditions.

Cheetahs never stopped trying and deserved a bonus point before their supporters in a 22 013 crowd, but the fourth try that would have earned it eluded the Bloemfontein-based outfit.

A feature of the high tempo contest was the excellent goal kicking of rival flyhalves Morne Steyn of Bulls and Naas Olivier, who converted seven of eight attempts each.

The scoreline was harsh on the Cheetahs, who stole one line-out throw by the Bulls while conceding none themselves and forced the champions to make nine tackles more than they did.

However, the home team made twice as many handling errors as the Bulls and that proved a telling factor in a game where a Bulls team that began with 10 of the side that started the final last year clinically punished mistakes.

Centre Jaco Pretorius, Steyn, Habana replacement Gerhard van den Heever, fullback Zane Kirchner and Olivier crossed the line for the Bulls who were also awarded a penalty try while Steyn kicked five conversions and three penalties and replacement Jacques-Louis Potgieter one conversion.

Debutant wing Lionel Mapoe, Smith and wing Jongi Nokwe were the Cheetahs’ try scorers with Olivier converting two and kicking five penalties. - AFP

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