Perth - The Western Force stayed on track for the Super 15 playoffs with a hard-earned 15-9 win over the Bulls in Perth on Saturday night.AS IT HAPPENED: Western Force v BullsVIDEO: Cheetahs start DANCE craze!
The Force have never reached the finals, but moved one step closer when they notched their sixth win from nine matches this season on the back of the boot of South African flyhalf Sias Ebersohn and another strong defensive effort.
It moved the Western Force into second in the Australian conference, while the Bulls, three times Super Rugby champions, have just three wins from 10 matches after a horror tour that saw them lose all four matches in Australia and New Zealand.
Ebersohn converted all five of his penalty kicks in a dour struggle where genuine try scoring opportunities were rarely created.
In slippery conditions, both teams spent much of the match kicking for field position and handling errors were common.
Neither side really threatened to score a try, but the Bulls made a late bid to steal the win when they attacked strongly in the last couple of minutes, only to concede a penalty for not releasing the ball.
The Bulls started brightly enough, dominating early possession and posting the first six points of the match through the boot of Jacques Louis-Potgieter.
However, the home side started to claw their way back when Ebersohn converted his first penalty in the 26th minute, and by half-time the Force led 9-6.
Two more second-half penalties to the Force saw them put a nine-point gap on the Bulls, but Handre Pollard converted in the 63rd minute to close the gap to less than a converted try.
In the 65th minute, the Bulls won a penalty close to the try line, but it was reversed for a shoulder charge from Jacques du Plessis on Force captain Matt Hodgson.
Hodgson said it was a pleasing way for his team to head to the bye.
"It was a big win for us," he said.
"They came out firing, I think they wanted to get one before they went home and we had to nullify that.
"We had a lot of discipline in that second half and played a good kicking territory game."
Bulls skipper Victor Matfield said it was a frustrating end to a tough tour.
"In these conditions it was very hard to hold onto the ball," he said.
"You have to do your basics right, we gave them territory and from there they got penalties.
"It is all about decision making and we are making wrong decisions at critical times and it is costing us wins."Scorers:
Force - Penalties: Sias Ebersohn (5)
Bulls - Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2), Handre PollardTeams:Force
15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Dane Haylett-Petty, 13. Marcel Brache, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. Nick Cummins, 10. Sias Ebersohn, 9. Ian Prior, 8. Ben McCalman, 7. Matt Hodgson (captain), 6. Angus Cottrell, 5. Sam Wykes, 4. Adam Coleman, 3. Kieran Longbottom, 2. Nathan Charles, 1. Pek Cowan
Substitutes: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Ollie Hoskins, 19. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20. Brynard Stander, 21. Justin Turner, 22. Zack Holmes, 23. Chris Tuatara-MorrisonBulls
15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers