A 14-man Bulls outfit managed to hold on for a 34-21 victory over the Sunwolves in Pretoria, despite a late flourish by the Japanese-based side.
The Sunwolves were down 34-14 but dominated the closing minutes to push the Bulls close. A 71st minute try ensured the Bulls failed to pick up a bonus-point, however, the deficit could have been a lot closer had Liaki Moli not lost the ball in his attempt to ground the ball in the final minute.
The victory was the Bulls' first of the competition while the Sunwolves remain winless.
The Sunwolves showed early intentions of keeping ball in hand and took the lead in the third minute through a Hayden Cripps penalty. The play remained mostly between the 22s from that point until the Bulls got some momentum.
The Sunwolves found themselves with a defensive scrum on their five-metre line and the pressure took its toll as they spilt the ball and the Bulls pounced. Piet van Zyl scooped it up and handed it to Jan Serfontein, who used his massive frame to stretch over. Pollard added the extras to ensure a 7-3 lead after 12 minutes.
Pollard extended the Bulls lead to 10-3 after 23 minutes, only for Cripps to hit back with a penalty of his own. The Bulls got themselves on the front foot in the 31st minute when a massive maul from a line-out outside the Sunwolves' 22 saw them extend their lead.
Pierre Schoeman the man to dot down. Pollard added the extras to ensure a 17-6 lead but Cripps hit back once again with a three-pointer to reduce the deficit to 9-17.
The visitors had the final say of the half when a brilliant counter-attack saw them receive the ball on their 10-metre line, flung it out wide to Kenki Fukuoka, who raced away into the corner to reduce the deficit to 14-17 at the break.
The Bulls got off to the worst possible start to the second half as Renaldo Bothma was shown a straight red card for a swinging arm to the head of Ed Quirk in the 41st minute but that had no effect as they bagged the first points.
Jason Jenkins benefitted from a tap-penalty to smash his way over the line. Pollard's extras ensured a 24-14 lead. Pollard then missed a penalty kick at goal soon after and was replaced by Tiaan Schoeman who stretched the Bulls lead to 27-14 after 59 minutes.
Serfontein then grabbed his second try of the night when he got the ball at first receiver on the Sunwolves' 10-metre line. The centre ran a brilliant line and raced into the corner. Schoeman added the tricky conversion to ensure a 34-14 lead.
The Sunwolves were not going down though as they launched a patient attack. They took the ball through the phases and drew the Bulls defenders infield, which allowed Ed Quirk to go over unopposed. Jumpei Ogura added the conversion to reduce the deficit to 21-34 in the 71st minute.
Liaki Moli thought he had grabbed a last second try to bring his side closer to a losing bonus point but he lost the ball forward in his attempt to score.
Man of the match: Jamie-Jerry Taulagi and Timothy Lafaele were creative in midfield and their neat offloads kept their side on the front foot. Willie Britz and Ed Quirk were the workhorses up front while Kenki Fukuoka wracked up the metres and Hayden Cripps stood up to the challenge. Edgar Marutlulle had a good outing while Lodewyk de Jager was his big bruising self. Hanro Liebenberg worked tirelessly and Piet van Zyl pushed the tempo. Jan Serfontein ran some threatening lines and was rewarded with a brace. Our award goes to Sunwolves fullback Shota Emi who carried strongly and was elusive with ball-in-hand while he seemed untroubled under the high ball.
Tries: Serfontein 2, P Schoeman, Jenkins
Cons: Pollard 3, T Schoeman
Pens: Pollard, T Schoeman
Tries: Fukuoka, Quirk
Pens: Cripps 3
Red card: Renaldo Bothma (Bulls, foul play - swinging arm to the head, 41)
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Handré Pollard (captain), 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Sunwolves: 15 Shota Emi, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shumei Matsuhashi, 6 Ed Quirk (captain), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Stuart Berry
TMO: Willie Vos
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