Cape Town – The Bulls missed a golden opportunity to get a Super Rugby win overseas when they fell to a 20-14 defeat to the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Bulls had raced to a 14-3 lead, but an inability to secure possession for large periods of the game and struggles at scrum time ultimately cost them.
On paper, this was the easiest match of the Bulls' Australasian tour with fixtures against the Chiefs and Crusaders coming up in the next two weeks.
The visitors had fallen to a 49-35 defeat to the Lions at Loftus last weekend - a result that coach John Mitchell put down largely to their poor performance in the rolling maul.
The coach would have been pleased, then, when his side drew first blood after just five minutes when a dominant Bulls maul sucked in the Reds defence.
The ball went through the hands via Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel before finding its way to fullback Warrick Gelant, who went over.
Pollard converted from out left, and the Bulls had a handy 7-0 lead early on.
The Reds, having trouble looking after their own ball early on, then enjoyed a period of sustained pressure that came from their superiority at scrum time.
After shoving the Bulls off their own feed, the Reds used that penalty to set up an attacking scrum of their own.
From the resulting attack, tighthead prop Taniela Tupou thought he had scored, but replays showed that Bulls scrumhalf Andre Warner had done a superb job of holding him up.
The Reds eventually got on the board through a James Tuttle penalty on 24 minutes, but the Bulls hit back soon after with a seriously impressive try from deep in their own territory.
Travis Ismaiel made the initial break down the right before the Bulls did well to keep the ball alive with a series of neat offloads. Warner was the man to finish off the move, and at 14-3 up the Bulls would have been fancying their chances.
The hosts gave themselves the lifeline they needed just before half time when Caleb Timu, after good continuity from the Reds down the left, capitalised on a defensive error from Ismaiel.
It left the Reds 14-10 down at half-time, but they were at least back in the contest.
The second half started with the Bulls on the front foot, but for all of their possession they couldn’t penetrate the Reds defence.
Then, out of nowhere, the Reds scored against the run of play to hit the front when Aidan Toua finished off a counter-attacking move that had started with wing Filipo Daugunu creating the space.
The conversion was good, and the Reds were ahead in the contest for the first time at 17-14.
On 50 minutes, Mitchell withdrew Jonny Kotze for Marnitz Boshoff in a change that saw Pollard move out to No 12 to accommodate Boshoff at flyhalf.
It didn’t really help, as the Bulls battled to get hold of the ball and the Reds dominated the next period of play.
Crucially, though, the Bulls did not concede when they were under pressure and they were still within striking distance going into the final quarter.
It was all the Reds, though, as the hosts continued to hog the ball.
A penalty from flyhalf Jono Lance on 75 minutes made it 20-16 to the Reds, and the Bulls could not recover.
It means that the men from Pretoria have won one and lost two this season, but their bonus point for losing by less than seven takes them to five points in the South African Conference, level with the Stormers in second place.
Reds 20 (10)
Try: Caleb Timu, Aidan Toua
Conversions: James Tuttle (2)
Penalty: Jono Lance
Bulls 14 (14)
Tries: Warrick Gelant, Andre Warner
Conversions: Handre Pollard (2)
15 Aidan Toua, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jono Lance, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 Liam Wright, 6 Adam Korczyk, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 James Slipper (captain)
Substitutes: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 JP Smith, 18 Sef Fa'agase, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Angus Scott-Young, 21 Tate McDermott, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Duncan Paia'aua
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Duncan Matthews, 10 Handre Pollard (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Nick de Jager, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Divan Rossouw