The Bulls continued their unbeaten run when they beat the Hurricanes 19-14 in their Super 14 Week Six match in Wellington on Friday, the opening game of their five-week Australasian tour.
The win – in what must be the most ‘colourful’ game of the season, five yellow cards and one red card – saw the Bulls retain first place on the standings as the only unbeaten side.
Rugby 365 reports that the Hurricanes outscored the Bulls by two tries to one, with their second score coming well into injury time – which did earn them a losing bonus point.
It’s a great pity when the main talking point after a match between two great sides is the referee. But that was the case. There were three tries in the match but six yellow cards. The Hurricanes played with 14 men for 29 minutes, the Bulls for 65 minutes. The referee decided that he was going to clean up the game and stuck consistently to his principles, without really producing a game with space and players with confidence. His efforts at reformation did not work.
In Florence in the 15th century there was a Dominican friar Savonarola who preached moral reform of a fiercely strict kind to the extent of heresy and sedition. He was burnt at the stake for his efforts. Matt Goddard may well be roasted for his performance but at least it was gritty and his principles not at all fiercely proclaimed.
The recipients of the yellow cards were Pedrie Wannenburg (offside at a ruck), Ma’a Nonu (tackle offence), Deon Stegmann (tackle offence), Scott Waldrom (tackle offence), Deon Stegman (dangerous tackle of the spear variety) and Jason Eaton (stomping). The second yellow card for Stegmann equalled a red, which is probably what his tackle on Conrad Smith deserved in any case.
That is probably the main news from a match which Murray Mexted billed as a competition “between the toughest teams in the competition”. There was some place in the match for toughness though the Hurricanes were better in the pack, the Bulls shrewder in strategy and fearless in their aggressive defence. The Hurricanes were better at scrums, the maul and the tackle, the Bulls better in the line-outs. But it was probably the penalty count that made most difference. The penalty count went 13-3 against the Bulls though one should add the second yellow card for Stegmann which was not actually an awarded penalty as advantage gave the Hurricanes an attacking line-out. But 13-3/4 is a telling difference.
It gave Morné Steyn shots at goal. He goaled four but missed another four and two drop attempts. The Hurricanes’ Piri Weepu had one long-distance penalty kick at goal.
A lot of credit for the victory goes to the tactical nous of Fourie du Preez and Steyn but also to the defence of the Bulls. They played for the last 31 minutes with 14 men and the only score they yielded was after the final siren had sounded. Time and again they dropped a Hurricane in his tracks and when it got close they kept them at bay as the strong men like Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Gürthro Steenkamp dumped Hurricane after Hurricane.
In the strange circumstances of the match, the Bulls probably deserved their victory which could have been more substantial had Steyn been more accurate.
The Bulls scored first when Karl Lowe was penalised for having his hands in a ruck and Steyn goaled. 3-0 after 2 minutes.
The live wire on the field was scrumhalf Albie Mathewson. Twice his breaks brought the Hurricanes to the brink of scoring. His first was a break down the left that saw Eaton galloping for the line, till caught from behind by Fourie du Preez. Werner Kruger was on hand to save.
Then after 9 minutes Steyn doubled the score before the Hurricanes went on some of the best fast attacking of the match till they went right and fullback Tamati Ellison, always lively and always a threat, skipped past Kruger and raced 30 metres for a try at the posts. Weepu converted. 7-6 to the Hurricanes.
Nonu was penalised at a tackle and sent to the sin bin. Steyn goaled. 9-7 after 27 minutes.
The Hurricanes won a turnover off Gerhard van den Heever and attacked down the right. After Stegmann was sent to the sin bin, the Hurricanes had a five-metre line-out but the Bulls got stuck in and half-time came at 9-7.
The Hurricanes made a mess of the kick-off and the Bulls attacked. Scott Waldrom was penalised and sin-binned, and Steyn goaled. 12-7 after 41 minutes.
The Bulls attacked on counterattack and then the Hurricanes were close but burly John Schwalger was tackled out at the corner by Wannenburg. The Bulls threw deep in the line-out, caught the ball and then knocked on, which gave the Hurricanes a chance to attack and the Bulls the fun of driving them away.
The Bulls’ try was a splendid affair. From a line-out on their left they went right in an intricate, planned move. When Zane Kirchner was tackled far out on the right, the Bulls won quick ball. Spies pounded forward and when he was tackled quick ball came back to Du Preez who sent his men far left where Wynand Olivier kept the defence honest and sent JP Nel over in the corner. Steyn converted from touch. 19-7 after 57 minutes. The 14 men were winning.
Steyn kicked high and Wannenburg collected a knock back to send Rossouw charging at the line. He had Derick Kuün inside him but in trying to get the ball to his right spilled it forward to the left just four metres from the line. But when Lowe was offside, Steyn made it 22-7.
Mathewson had a break as he scooted past Steenkamp. He had Dane Coles on his right but the speedy hooker knocked on. There followed a long period of urgent Hurricane attack, met by urgent Bulls defence. Rodney So’oialo bashed at the line. Jacob Ellison was right there but lost the ball forward, which produced a five-metre scrum to the Bulls. The Hurricanes wheeled and shoved. Du Preez was forced to carry the ball over. From the five-metre scrum the Hurricanes battered again. The siren went to indicate full time, but the referee awarded a free kick to the Hurricanes and suddenly Eaton broke away from the tackle/ruck to score at the posts. Weepu converted and the final whistle went.
Man of the Match: Despite the excitement created by Tamati Ellison and Albi Mathewson, the Man of the Match had to be a Bulls forward and our choice is Bakkies Botha with powerful runs, great line-out takes and a dozen tackles – the best of good close-quarters men. He was the biggest man among big men.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Ellison, Eaton
Cons: Weepu 2
For the Bulls:
Pens: Steyn 4
Pedrie Wannenburg (Bulls, 19 – repeated infringements, in at the side of the ruck),
Ma’a Nonu (Hurricanes, 28 – repeated infringements, slowing the ball down),
Deon Stegmann (Bulls, 36 – repeated infringements, not rolling away at the ruck/tackle),
Scott Waldrom (Hurricanes, 42 – repeated infringements, in at the side of the ruck),
Jason Eaton (Hurricanes, 50 – foul play, stomping)
Deon Stegmann (Bulls, 49 – foul play, spear tackle)