AUCKLAND, May 15 (Reuters) - The Auckland Blues battled hard in the face of some late pressure to overcome the Bulls 23-18 at Eden Park on Friday as the struggling New Zealanders registered just their third victory of the Super Rugby season.
The Bulls did earn a losing bonus point to leapfrog the Stormers at the top of the South African conference standings but will rue a missed chance to claim victory when they gave up a late try.
Both teams scored two tries but Auckland got the decisive touchdown 12 minutes from time when inside centre George Moala crashed over.
Auckland flyhalf Ihaia West landed his second conversion after booting three first half penalties in what proved the difference with the Blues defence holding out the Bulls in the final few minutes.
“The boys really stuck to it tonight,” Auckland captain Keven Mealamu said in a pitchside interview. “It was never going to be easy but we did a good job and this will build some confidence for next season.”
The Blues scored the opening try in the 18th minute when Bulls flyhalf Handre Pollard failed to find touch with his clearance kick and the home fullback Lolagi Visinia scored on the counter-attack.
The South Africans did close the gap before halftime when Jan Serfontein scored near the posts then grabbed the lead after the break when the centre scored his second try.
However, the Blues regained the lead when Moala dived over from close range after a long build-up of pressure then kept the visitors scoreless for the rest of the match.
“It was really disappointing for us tonight but you have to give credit to the Blues for the way they played,” Bulls skipper Pierre Spies said.
“We made too many mistakes, we didn’t build momentum or get enough points on the board so we’ve got to have a good look at ourselves.” (Writing by Julian Linden in Singapore; Editing by John O‘Brien)