Bulls 28 Connacht 14
Connacht will run out for the first time next Friday on their new artificial pitch at the Sportsground without a point to show after three games in the URC after they were turned over, as expected, at Loftus Versfeld.
But after conceding two converted tries after less than ten minutes and falling 28-0 adrift just after the break, they will leave South Africa relieved that they did not suffer a massive drubbing against a Bulls side laden with Springboks.
A combination of some gritty play by Andy Friend’s men when the game was lost and ill-discipline from a Bulls side who suffered three yellow cards and went down to 13 men at one stage, conceding 20 penalties throughout, ensured a rout did not happen.
Yet, this was another mistaken-ridden performance from Connacht and their penalty concession of 15 — now at 44 for their opening three games — really undermined a lot of hard work.
The Bulls came out of the starting blocks at a ferocious pace and raced into a 14-0 lead inside ten minutes despite having a second minute try from hooker Johan Grobbelaar ruled out for an infringement.
The reprieve was short-lived for a Connacht side who made life so difficult for themselves with basic mistakes.
Springbok full-back Kurt-Lee Arendse made them pay when he scorched through for the opening try after seven minutes when he intercepted a John Porch pass, with Johan Goosen converting.
Out-half David Hawkshaw, starting his first game for Connacht since his summer move from Leinster, sent the restart direct to touch as he tried to find Mack Hansen, and from the possession the Bulls turned the screw, with Canan Moodie making ground down the right before scrum-half Zak Burger scored off the recycle.
Goosen again added the extras but Connacht responded well and enjoyed a good spell of possession, but Hawkshaw was unable to get them off the mark with a 25-metre penalty which he pulled wide.
Connacht were unable to make a yellow card to Bulls flanker Marco van Straden count, a penalty to the left corner saw Dave Heffernan bundled into touch as they tried to maul over.
Kieran Marmion almost put Hansen through with a superb reverse pass, while the Irish winger did well to get back and deny centre David Kriel after another Bulls break from deep.
The Bulls went in leading 21-0 at the break when former Ulster star Marcell Coetzee finished off a neat reverse move from a tapped penalty to drive over for their third converted try.
Connacht lost their first three lineouts after the restart as several good opportunities were squandered and Bulls went through to wrap up the bonus point when lock Ruan Nortje put Burger in for his second try, with Goosen’s conversion making it 28-0.
The prospect of a record defeat seemed on the cards but Connacht battled and with the Bulls’ discipline letting them down as Goosen and replacement hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels were binned — going down to 13 men for seven minutes at one stage — they lost their momentum.
Jack Aungier came off the bench to stretch and score for the second week in a row and while a Porch try was ruled out after a forward pass from Oran McNulty seven minutes from time, Hawkshaw blocked down a clearance from Chris Smith to score under the posts moments later.
His conversion cut the gap to 14 and gave Connacht hope of snatching a bonus point but that never looked like happening and they remain pointless at the bottom of the table.
Bulls: Tries: Z Burger (2), KL Arendse, M Coetzee. Cons: J Goosen (4).
Connacht: Try: J Aungier, D Hawkshaw. Cons: Hawkshaw (2).
Bulls: K Arendse; C Moodie (L Mapoe 27), C Hendricks, D Kriel, S Nkosi (C Smith 70); J Goosen, Z Burger (E Papier 63); G Steenekamp (S Matanzima 58), J Grobbelaar (JH Wessels 25), F Klopper (M Smith 59); W Steenkamp (J Swanepoel 79), R Nortje; M Coetzee (c), M van Staden (R Ludwig 58), E Louw.
Connacht: O McNulty 5; J Porch 5, T Farrell 6, T Daly 6 (B Ralston 53, 6), M Hansen 6; D Hawkshaw 5, K Marmion 6 (C Reilly 61, 6); D Buckley 6 (P Dooley 59, 6), D Heffernan 5 (G Stewart 61, 6), F Bealham 6 (J Aungier 60, 5); L Fifita 5 (G Thornbury 52, 6), O Dowling 5; J Murphy 6 (C Booth 59, 6), C Oliver 7 (S Hurley-Langton 52, 6), J Butler (c) 6.
Referee: A Piardi (Italy).