Gareth Anscombe produced a stunning individual performance in his run-on debut, scoring all 29 of his side’s points as the Blues triumphed over the Bulls 29-23 in Pretoria earlier this morning.
All but written off in the media and rubbished by many fans, the Blues responded to their critics in the best way possible ñ on the field as they bounced back from consecutive losses to the Crusaders and Chiefs to record their first victory at Loftus Versfeld in nine years.
It was a far from flawless outing by the Blues in a match dominated by the whistle of Steve Walsh, but it was a victory built on a passionate and committed performance by the forwards as they smashed into their opposite numbers and Gareth Anscombe piled on the points.
It was the apprentice taking on the master as up-and-coming first five-eighths Gareth Anscombe made his first start for the Blues, lining up against Bulls kicking ace and 92 cap veteran Morne Steyn.
However the tables were well and truly turned as 20-year-old Anscombe upstaged the Springbok sharpshooter, bagging two tries and kicking seven from 10 shots at goal, missing just two difficult long range attempts.
In contrast Steyn was uncharacteristically out of sorts, missing four of his seven attempts at goal as the Bulls never quite capitalised on their possession and territorial advantage.
Loftus Versfeld is often a graveyard for visiting teams, with its passionate and raucous crowd making it an intimidating cauldron for any side taking on the Bulls.
Indeed half the battle is just silencing the boisterous fans from the Highveld, but the crowd of 31,582 were muted early on when Anscombe ran away for a try after less than two minutes.
A simple switch by Morne Steyn and his outside was fumbled as Anscombe latched onto the loose ball and showed tremendous pace to race 60 metres untouched for the try.
His conversion, followed by a monster 50 metre penalty kick which ricocheted off the uprights to go over, gave his side a 10-nil lead after eight minutes.
It was a frenetic start by the visitors who too often tried to force their hand and spin the ball wide from within their own 22 before conceding possession to the Bulls.
The Blues continued to infringe at the breakdown as the Bulls forwards ripped into their work in tight, and when Ali Williams was sin binned for collapsing a Bulls maul, Pierre Spies made the most of the one man advantage to crash over for a try.
The Bulls were almost in again moments later only for the five pointer to be disallowed by the Television Match Official, but Steyn finally found his range to slot his first kick in three attempts and narrow the deficit to 8-10.
While the Bulls had the wealth of possession and territory yet failed to capitalise on it, the Blues ensured the few times they visited their opponents’ half they came away with points.
Anscombe added another three points with a penalty kick after 34 minutes before finishing off some brilliant phase play to score a try two minutes from half time.
Following a strong counter attack, Ma’a Nonu took the ball to the line and offloaded to Chris Lowrey who surged towards the line. From there prop Pauliasi Manu gave a lovely no-look pass to Anscombe who ran a terrific line to slice through the defence and touch down.
Leading 20-8 at the break, the Blues produced a more composed performance in the second stanza as they worked their way into the right areas of the field.
Yet indiscretions continued to keep the Bulls in the game as Steyn landed a penalty kick after 53 minutes to narrow the margin.
With Pat Lam going to the bench to inject some fresh legs into the game at the energy sapping high altitude, the Blues began to dominate and two consecutive Anscombe penalties saw the visitors edge out to 26-11.
However the Bulls weren’t about to give up without a fight and two tries to wing Bjorn Basson brought the match to a thrilling end as the Blues held on to win 29-23.
Already low on backs with Isaia Toeava, Rudi Wulf, George Moala and Michael Hobbs back in New Zealand, the Blues could be dealt a further blow to their stocks with Rene Ranger given a white card for a questionable challenge on Basson in the final act of him scoring a try on fulltime.
The Blues now head to Cape Town to face the Stormers on Saturday morning (6.10am NZT).