The Reds have been left to lament what might have been after failing to treasure the ball in their 32-17 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria.
Striving for their first win in South Africa since 2015, the Reds came up against a wounded Bulls outfit determined to rebound from a nail-biting home loss to the Jaguares.
And while they opened the scoring through an early penalty goal, there was little other reward for the Reds in the opening half, with the Bulls controlling possession and field position.
“It was a tough game to watch,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said.
“Credit to the Bulls, they’ve had some tough weeks, so that’s a good win for them and they did some good stuff out there tonight.
“For us it was very frustrating.
“You can’t win games of footy when you’re turning over the ball that much.
“In the first half I thought we were lucky to be 10 points behind, we hardly had any footy.
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“Second half was slightly improved but we still didn’t look after that footy.”
While Handre Pollard became the first Super Rugby player this season to score 100 points, the Reds remained in touch at the break after he missed two first-half conversions.
But they were immediately on the back foot when Pollard raced over to score within a minute of the re-start, converting his try to extend the Bulls’ lead to 20-3 and making the Reds’ mission even more difficult.
The Reds built into the game though and when Samu Kerevi scored the first of his two tries in the 57th minute, the margin was back to just 10 points and the Reds had a sniff.
Having been over-run by the Jaguares just a week earlier, the Bulls would have been nervous but the Reds could not maintain enough possession to build pressure.
“At halftime it was on us, if we could pull ourselves together and get our stuff going, we could have a competitive game and an opportunity to win the game,” Thorn said.
“But you’ve got to treasure that ball, you’ve got to look after it.
“At the breakdown, there were quite a few turnovers and messy ball, it was frustrating.
“The Bulls just looked after things better than we did and created some opportunities and they did have some errors as well, which is frustrating as a visiting team.
“There were some opportunities there for us if we were clinical and build our game.
“Every game’s tough in Super Rugby and if you turn up off your game, you get beat – especially coming to Pretoria.”
The Bulls pushed the margin out again with tries to Hanro Liebenberg and winger Jade Stighling in the six minutes after Kerevi’s effort and while the Queensland captain scored again in the 68th minute, it was too little, too late from the Reds.
“There were a few tries in the last 20 (minutes) that (were poor),” Thorn said.
“The bench generally come on for us and add something but it was just a really disappointing night.”
The Reds head to Durban to face the Sharks on Saturday.
Tries: Gqoboka, van Staden, Pollard, Liebenberg, Stighling
Cons: Pollard 2
Tries: Kerevi 2
Cons: Hegarty 2