The Bulls showed grit not seen in years to battle past the Hurricanes in a bruising encounter in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls are back. And if Pretoria is as wise as we think it is, Loftus Versfeld will be full next week when the Lions bring their two wins to the enthusiastic ground.
The Hurricanes brought a team of experienced men to Loftus Versfeld while the Bulls had far less experience. The teams scored three tries each.
The Hurricanes had a tough times in the scrums, conceding three penalties but they put pressure on the Bulls' line-out. The Hurricanes may have been neater about their possession in the line-outs, which was largely uncontested but they lost one and threw one in skew while the Bulls, whose every line-out was contested, lost one.
The Hurricanes won the turnovers. Their backs were more skilful and creative but the Bulls pack were the ones whose forwards handled better and made more ground.
In the first half the Hurricanes battled to get possession but they had much the better of the second half, till the last 15 minutes or so when the Bulls came back.
Last year the Bulls' defence was fragile. In this match they were direct and energetic on defence and actually were less leaky than the Hurricanes were, for the visitors did not relish getting stuck into big men. Two of the three Bulls' tries were scored by forwards and only a long TMO investigation prevented the forwards from having a third.
The Bulls scored first when they went hither and thither in phases, and a clever under-armpit pass from Jesse Kriel gave Johnny Kotze a try. 5-0 after 3 minutes.
They scored again when rough Sam Lousi was penalised for an armless tackle. 8-0 after 6 minutes.
The same Lousi had a great charge down the middle of the field, and penalty gave the Hurricanes a five-metre line-out. The Hurricanes mauled cleverly and Durban-born hooker Ricky Riccitelli fell down for the try. 8-5 after 12 minutes.
Six minutes later, the Hurricanes took the lead. A long, bouncing pass found East London-born Wes Goosen. The Bulls young, Windhoek-born fullback Divan Rossouw came up to challenge Goosen who chipped over his head and into empty acres. He raced after the ball which generously stood up for him and he ran another 24 metres to score a try, which Ihaia West converted to give the Hurricanes a 12-8 lead after 18 minutes.
Big lock RG Snyman went off on the first of his long gallops which faded when the tried an underarm flipback to Pollard.
This was heartening for the Bulls but soon afterwards they had a disheartening blow when prop Pierre Schoeman was yellowcarded for a swinging arm.
To their credit, when Schoeman returned to battle, the Bulls were leading 13-12. They did not let a yellow card get them down.
In fact they nearly had two tries. Snyman leant a big arm down for what looked like a try after TJ Perenara had bravely stopped Lood de Jager at the goal-line. But a lengthy examination by the TMO decided that Frans van Wyk had lost the ball forward that Snyman picked up to dab down over the line.
But two minutes later, a metre inside the Hurricanes' half, Snyman burst through two attempted tackles and strode downfield. This time there were no subtle flipbacks, just a pass to his tall companion De Jager about two metres from the Hurricanes 22 and De Jager strode off while defenders scurried towards him. He scored in the left corner and the Bulls were back in front, 13-12.
Schoeman came back, Vince Aso went offside, and Pollard made the half-time score 16-12 to the Bulls.
On 56 minutes Beauden Barrett, World Rugby's Player of the year in 2016 and 2017, came onto the field, replacing Julian Savea. He had one touch of the ball that was better than anybody else's touches in the match.
But his first touch was a try. The Hurricanes were hot on the attack and near the Bulls' line, Perenara gave Barrett a grubber pass to his left. Barrett seized it and scored. West converted, and the Hurricanes were back on top at 19-16 with 21 minutes to play.
At this stage 20-year-old, Clanwilliam-born Embrose Papier came on at scrumhalf.
The Hurricanes had greater post-try energy but Pollard charged down a West kick, picked up the ball and hoofed it downfield. Kriel sped after the ball. Ardie Savea got the ball and Kriel got Savea. Big Lood de Jager was there to clean out. The Bulls went right and prop Schoeman sold a dummy and scored. With 8 minutes to play the Bulls led 21-19.
They played keepball and then when time was up Papier kicked the ball out for the victory.
Man of the Match: RG Snyman. Nobody was better than this giant.
For the Bulls:
Tries: Kotze, De Jager, Schoeman
Pens: Pollard 2
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Riccitelli, Goosen, Barrett
Cons: West 2
Yellow card: Pierre Schoeman (Bulls, 25 - foul play, swinging arm)
Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain ), 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Rudolf Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, .
Hurricanes: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 James O'Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Fraser Armstrong, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ben Lam.
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Stephen Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)