The Blues got beaten at their own game with the Bulls breaking the mould to run in four tries for a commanding 38-22 Super Rugby win in Pretoria today.
Having scored just two tries in three matches leading into this fixture, the Bulls produced some sweet passing and continuity play to complement their strong forward game.
They controlled this match from start to finish, capitalising on some poor Blues defence to secure a bonus-point win to keep them in touch in the tough South African conference.
The Blues will be disappointed with this effort. Having looked so strong in crunching the Crusaders 35-24 in Auckland last week, they wilted against the Bulls.
The Bulls played a clever game, ignoring their traditional kick and chase tactics to largely keep the ball in hand and negate the Blues' dangerous counter-attacking threats.
The Blues could only manage one scrappy try to replacement Peter Ahki and had to rely on the perfect boot of Simon Hickey to stay in the game.
Hickey, the Super Rugby rookie, gave another polished performance at No 10 that bodes well for his development at this level.
Steven Luatua was huge in the battles up front, well supported by skipper Luke Braid.
But the Blues simply couldn't engineer any magic.
They had a solid lineout but struck some scrum problems, not helped by the late withdrawal of experienced hooker Keven Mealamu.
The lack of any championship points out of this match puts heat on the Blues heading to Johannesburg for a clash with the Lions at Ellis Park next weekend.
The Bulls were solid in all areas. First five Jacques-Louis Potgieter played the perfect hand on a memorable night at Loftus, scoring a try and kicking two conversions, two penalties and a dropped goal.
The Bulls made the most of their first foray into Blues territory, winning a tighthead from a five-metre scrum.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter broke through some weak defence to brush past five attempted tackles on an angled run to the line to score by the posts.
Simon Hickey got the Blues underway with a penalty but that was cancelled out by a 45m dropped goal from Potgieter.
Hickey replied again as mistakes continued to cost points to either side.
Potgieter traded penalties again as the kickathon continued.
The Bulls got lucky when a sloppy cleanout from the Blues on their own 22 saw the ball fly loose and big No 8 Jono Ross collected it for a stroll to the posts.
Hickey kept the scoreboard rolling for the Blues with his accurate boot as they struggled to get some flow going with their running game.
The closest they got to a try was a kick and chase that saw Jackson Willison just edged to the ball ingoal close to halftime.
But when the Bulls struck right on the whistle with Jan Serfontein gliding over out wide to finish a long-range attack, the warning bells were ringing for Kirwan's side as they trudged off at the break trailing 25-12.
Potgieter extended that with a simple penalty goal soon after the restart.
The Blues got lucky when centre George Moala failed to latch on to a Hickey chip to the ingoal, with the ball bouncing off his shoulder, but replacement Peter Ahki was close by to touch down. At 28-19 down with 20 minutes to go, the Blues were back in the match.
Hickey edged them closer with his fifth penalty.
But Potgieter quickly cancelled that out with a 42m effort after Piri Weepu gave up a needless penalty from a ruck.
And the Bulls had the final say with replacement prop Marcel van der Merwe completing a clever juggling act to crash over for the bonus point try right on fulltime.
Bulls: Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Jono Ross, Jan Serfontein, Marcel van der Merwe tries; Jacques-Louis Potgieter 2 con, 2 pen, dg; Handre Pollard con.
Blues: Peter Ahki try; Simon Hickey con, 5 pen.
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