The Northern Bulls were forced to return to a traditional forward game as they ground out a 19-18 win over the Wellington Hurricanes in their Super 14 match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
The Bulls stayed on top of the table with their fifth successive victory, but for the first time in the season they were unable to add a bonus point for scoring four tries.
The Bulls were only able to score one try and needed the boot of flyhalf Morne Steyn, who kicked four penalty goals and a conversion, to keep their winning record.
The home team had to wait until 13 minutes from the end to take the lead for the first time, but they then gave a master class in retaining possession to prevent the New Zealanders from getting back into the match.
The Hurricanes led 15-10 at halftime, after disrupting the flamboyant attacking style that marked the Bulls’ first four games of the season.
The home team came out in the second half with a conservative game plan, driving with the forwards and tormenting the Hurricanes with well-judged kicks ahead.
“We came up against a spirited Hurricanes team,” Bulls captain Victor Matfield said. “We had to grind it out in the second half. We didn’t score, but I was very happy with the way we kept the ball.”
Hurricanes captain Andrew Hore said his team had a point to prove after losing two previous matches in South Africa, against the Cheetahs and Stormers. “We played some good footy, but the Bulls showed why they’re on top of the table,” Hore said.
Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper said before the match that his team had given away possession too easily in their previous two matches.
“We must treasure the ball,” he said — and they managed just that when they opened the scoring after 13 minutes, retaining possession through 10 phases to create a try in the right corner for flanker Karl Lowe.
Although the Bulls had the majority of possession, they made errors in trying to maintain their record of scoring at least four tries a match and the Hurricanes forced enough turnovers to turn defense into attack.
A quickly-taken tap penalty by Ma’a Nonu set up a try by lock Jeremy Thrush eight minutes later and Willie Ripia’s conversion gave the Hurricanes a 12-0 lead.
It took the Bulls half an hour to score their first points through a try by fullback Zane Kirchner.
The Bulls now face a four-match tour of Australia and New Zealand, while the Hurricanes return to New Zealand for a series of home games.