Cape Town — It was a case of sweet revenge for the Bulls against Connacht on Friday night, but coach Jake White will be concerned about injuries to two of his star players ahead of the tour to Europe.
The Pretoria franchise eased to a 28-14 bonus-point victory over the Irish province at Loftus Versfeld, as they ran in four tries without reply — having lost 34-7 against the same opponents in Galway last year.
But the satisfaction of beating such a strong team would have been soured by the fact that Springbok wings Canan Moodie and Sbu Nkosi, and hooker Johan Grobbelaar went off in the first half.
Moodie and Grobbelaar went off around the 25th minute, with the No 14 battling with a hamstring issue and the front-ranker limping a bit with an ankle problem.
Nkosi then took a blow to the head and neck area around the 70-minute mark in a high tackle from Connacht captain and No 8 Jarrad Butler, and was attended to by the medical staff before going off for a head injury assessment (HIA).
The Bulls will announce their tour squad on Saturday for their three-match trip to Europe — where they will face Glasgow Warriors next Saturday, Munster and Benetton in consecutive weekends — and White would’ve hoped to pick his strongest possible squad that would include Moodie, Nkosi and Grobbelaar.
The former Bok coach would have been glad to see his team extend their unbeaten run to three matches by dispatching Connacht, but he would not have been pleased with the performance.
The Bulls were sloppy on attack despite the four tries, as they committed a number of unforced errors such as knock-ons and forward passes, as well as conceding breakdown penalties when on attack inside the Connacht half.
Italian referee Andrea Piardi and his countryman Matteo Liperini, the TMO, didn’t aid the flow of the game either with their pedantic officiating and interruptions at times.
But the match officials weren’t the ones losing possession or making the wrong decisions with ball in hand.
The Bulls were denied a second-minute try with a questionable call by the officials, after Grobbelaar went over from a driving maul, as it was ruled out due to a supposed “flying wedge” from captain Marcell Coetzee and flank Marco van Staden as they latched onto lock Walt Steenkamp.
But soon enough, fullback Kurt-Lee Arendse got the ball rolling with a superb pick-up on the bounce of a loose Connacht pass, which saw the new Springbok star race all the way to the line.
Scrumhalf Zak Burger darted over a few minutes later after Walt Steenkamp was stopped just short, and suddenly it was 14-0 to the home side.
But then Van Staden received a yellow card for lifting the legs of a ball-carrier, and the departures of Moodie and Grobbelaar further hampered the Bulls.
They had to wait until just before halftime for their third try, with a trademark tap-penalty move finished by Coetzee.
The bonus point arrived six minutes after the break, with Burger rounding off after good soft hands from centre David Kriel had put lock Ruan Nortje into a gap.
Flyhalf Johan Goosen — who had a better game than last week at fullback against Edinburgh — was a bit unlucky to get a yellow card after he made head-to-head contact with Connacht No 9 Kieran Marmion in an attempted tackle, and that upset the Bulls’ rhythm further.
The visitors produced two consolation tries through prop Jack Aungier and flyhalf David Hawkshaw, but it was too late to affect the final result.
Bulls 28 – Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Zak Burger (2), Marcell Coetzee. Conversions: Johan Goosen (4).
Connacht 14 – Tries: Jack Aungier, David Hawkshaw. Conversions: Hawkshaw (2).