The Blues edged the Bulls 21-23 in an ill-disciplined, scrappy Super Rugby clash at a sodden Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria.
Tom Robinson’s and Stephen Perofeta’s second-half scores helped the beleaguered Blues overturn two six-point deficits and a late one-point gap, to win only their third match at Loftus in 10 outings and second of the season.
It is only the Auckland franchise’s third win in South Africa in 14 matches, while defeat leaves the winless Bulls rooted to the bottom of the South African Conference.
Morne Steyn scored 14 points, including a try and three penalties, while Jeandre Rudolph’s late try and Manie Libbok’s conversion almost saw the Bulls over the line.
Both teams had two players spend time in the sin-bin for cynical or dangerous play.
Only Andries Ferreira’s card didn’t cost any points in this see-sawing drab affair on the Highveld.
A late Black penalty, however, sealed the deal for the embattled Kiwis, who were down and out after Hoskins Sotutu’s 69th-minute yellow card looked to have cost the visitors the hard-fought win.
But Black’s boot gave the Bulls the blues.
Bulls edge sloppy first-half
The Bulls took a slender three-point lead into the shed after the flyhalf’s try after the hooter put his side back in front at the break.
Steyn’s five-pointer was Pote Human’s side’s first try of the season; it only took 203 minutes.
Earlier, Steyn had kicked his first Super Rugby points for the Pretoria outfit since 2013 to put the Bulls 6-0 up inside 15 minutes.
Black kicked a penalty of his own after Harry Plummer’s long-range miss, to put the visitors on the board.
Mark Talea’s 32nd-minute try had given the Blues the lead, but the home team kept up the pressure, taking advantage of Jonathan Ruru’s late yellow card.
Summer thunderstorm makes conditions tricky for both teams as points were hard to gain
A Highveld thunderstorm before kick-off meant the field was soaked and cutting up, making handling and footing, tricky.
Two Steyn penalties in the opening quarter of an hour put the Bulls 6-0 up, but Black halved the deficit two minutes later with a 40-metre goal.
The Bulls were guilty of handling errors and ill-discipline inside the Blues’ 22. They continued to make mistakes that let the tourists off the hook.
Super Rugby Video Highlights: Bulls versus Blues, Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen sent Ferreira to the sin-bin for taking out a man in the air at a Blues lineout.
The referee, in consultation with TMO Joey Klaaste-Salmans, then sent Bulls captain Burger Odendaal to the sideline for a dangerous tackle on Emoni Narawa.
Odendaal tackled man and ball in a well-timed hit, but the officials decided otherwise as the host went down to 13.
Telea scored in the corner with an expert finish, under pressure from Warrick Gelant and Cornal Hendricks, to put his side in front for the first time.
It was Ruru’s turn to spend some time on the naughty step when he was sin-binned for cynical play.
Rosco Specman thought he had scored after the hooter, but his foot was in touch.
However, the Bulls had a penalty-advantage for collapsing the scrum by Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Odendaal opted for another scrum under the posts, and the Bulls finally did score.
It was their first try of the 2020 Super Rugby campaign, and it came at the death after a wonderful wrap-around move between Gelant and Steyn, who slid over in the corner.
The game breaks open as the conditions deteriorate
Steyn kicked his third penalty, early in the second half, to increase the gap to six.
The Blues thought they had scored straight away, but the score did not stand.
A powerful run and deft offload from Sotutu saw the Blues finish a sweeping attack in the corner; however, the TMO told the referee to reverse his decision for a forward pass to Perofeta in the build-up by the number eight.
It was a let-off for Human’s side, who had switched off after the restart.
It did not take long for Leon MacDonald’s men to register another try.
Robinson crashed over on 53 minutes following a sustained period of pressure and driving mauls inside the Bulls’ 22 paid dividend.
Black’s conversion put his side back in front by a point.
Steyn attempted a drop-goal, moments later, but his kick was just wide.
Then on the hour mark, some magic from Black and Matt Duffie, who had just entered the game, set-up Perofeta’s try.
Duffie outjumped a defender to claim Black’s pin-point crossfield kick-pass before spinning out of a tackle and popping to the fullback on his inside.
Black missed from the sideline, but the Blues had a six-point advantage going into the last quarter.
The Bulls pack started to dominate in the last 20 minutes, winning multiple scrum-penalties as their opposition crumbled.
It was a brutal display of power and precision, which also translated into their driving mauls as they fought back against a 14-man tiring Blues.
More ill-discipline, this time by the Blues throws the Bulls a lifeline, but there was a twist in the tale
Sotutu received his marching orders for a dangerous tackle to bring the yellow card count to two apiece with 11 minutes remaining.
Pressure from the home team’s pack paid off when they won a series of penalties on the Blues’ line.
The Kiwis’ pack disintegrated every time before Rudolph picked up and reached over to score his first Super Rugby try.
Libbok’s conversion put the Bulls in front with seven to play.
More dominance by the Bulls pack killed the Blues’ chances as they wilted. Sotutu’s card almost proved costly as the Bulls looked for an unlikely win.
But there was a sting in the tale: A devastating denouement for the Bulls.
A critical turnover saw the Blues march into the opposition’s half and win a kickable penalty from in front after the hooter.
Black stepped up and broke South African hearts.
Final Score: Bulls 21 (11) Blues 23 (8)
Tries – Steyn, Rudolph
Pen – Steyn (3)
Con – Libbok
Cards – Ferreira (Yellow, 20′), Odendaal (Yellow, 25′)
Tries – Telea, Robinson, Perofeta
Pen – Black (2)
Con – Black
Cards – Ruru (Yellow, 39′), Sotutu (Yellow, 69′)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Ref 1: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Ref 2: Divan Uys
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans
Head Coach: Pote Human
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Wian Vosloo, 6 Jeandre Rudolph, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Gerhard Steenkamp, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Ruan Steenkamp 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Head Coach: Leon MacDonald
15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Emoni Narawa, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Tony Lamborn, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Jacob Pierce, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Aaron Carroll, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Sam Nock, 22 TJ Faiane, 23 Matt Duffie.