The Bulls shocked the Hurricanes 21-19 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria after Pierre Schoeman’s late try.
Both teams shared three tries apiece, but it was the kicking – and some dubious refereeing – that decided the outcome.
The Bulls led by four at the break. Locks Lood de Jager and Rudolph Snyman were superb for the home team, combining for De Jager’s try after another Snyman break in midfield.
Johnny Kotze’s early try and a Handre Pollard penalty put the hosts 8-0 in front, but the Hurricanes hit back twice through Wes Goosen and Ricky Riccitelli.
The second-half was an arm-wrestle. The match was played at a sluggish pace and the Hurricanes never found their rhythm, despite taking a 16-19 third-quarter lead.
TJ Perenara had a try ruled out after the on-field call was ‘no try’ and the TMO could not overturn the referee’s original decision.
Beauden Barrett’s 59th-minute try broke the deadlock. However, with eight minutes remaining, Schoeman crashed over for the game-winning try.
Barrett crossed the 1,000-points mark in Super Rugby, joining Dan Carter, Morne Steyn and Stirling Mortlock, the youngest player to do so.
The Bulls started the new campaign with a 4th-minute try by Kotze. The winger took Jesse Kriel’s chicken-wing pass and sped away for the game’s first try.
Three minutes’ later, Handre Pollard kicked a penalty, extending the lead to 8-0.
Soon after, Thembelani Bholi was caught offsides. Ihaia West kicked to the corner to set up the driving maul.
From the structured drive, Ricky Riccitelli, at the back, flopped over near the corner. West missed the conversion.
It was not long before some average defending by the Bulls allowed the Hurricanes to shift the ball wide from deep inside their half.
The ball got to Goosen, who had acres of space.
Travis Ismaiel was out of position, allowing the South African-born winger to chip behind the defence, gather and race away to put the Kiwis 8-12 up, after West’s conversion.
Although the home team was faltering, they continued to find space in the midfield, particularly their lock combination of De Jager and Snyman.
Both had chances after finding space, but some poor handling halted each attack. However, the Bulls were finding their way back into the contest.
Despite Schoeman spending time in the bin for a dangerous tackle, it was the hosts who nearly scored.
Snyman was over for the try, but a TMO referral ruled the previous phase had been a knock-on. It did not matter.
Some more sustained pressure, eventually led to de Jager and Snyman combining for their team’s second try.
Snyman made the break, burst down the field before releasing his Springbok partner, who raced away from West and Perenara to score in the corner.
Pollard, whose radar was off, missed the sideline conversion, but the Bulls had regained a one-point lead.
Vince Aso was caught offside and Pollard extended the lead to four.
The second-half was slow, mistake-ridden and full of scuffles as both sides tried to establish dominance.
Perenara had a try ruled out after some iffy officiating. As the half went on, the visitors started to exert pressure on their hosts.
Eventually, the pressure told. Barrett, on as a replacement, scored after being on the field for two minutes.
He reached his milestone with a typical piece of finishing. Perenara saw space, dinked a kick and the All Black standoff’s try put the Hurricanes back in front.
It wasn’t until late in the game that the Bulls, finally, put some points on the board.
With the clock ticking down, the Hurricanes attacked near midfield.
Pollard charges down West’s kick, the Bulls won the ruck inside the Canes’ 22, recycled quickly and Schoeman barged over the whitewash to seal an impressive victory.
Final score: Bulls 21 (16) Hurricanes 19 (12)
Tries – Kotze, De Jager, Schoeman
Pen – Pollard (2)
Cards – Schoeman (Yellow, 25′)
Tries – Riccitelli, Goosen, B. Barrett
Con – West (2)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Ref 1: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa),
Assistant Ref 2: Stephen Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
15 Warrick Gelant, 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, Divan Rossouw.
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.