The Bulls, reduced to 14 men for the last 10 minutes, managed to hang on for an important 32-29 win against a strong Western Force team in their Super 14 showdown at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
The win, despite again missing out on a bonus point against a strong-finishing Force team, saw the Bulls retain their second place on the standings and leaves them in a strong position to push for home ground advantage in the play-offs.
Rugby 365 reports that the Bulls played a power-based game, with their big runners taking the ball to the advantage line. For most part the Bulls looked impressive.
However, the Force’s defensive lines were sound enough to deny the Bulls a bonus point in a game that called for a moment of magic.
And that moment came in the eighth minute, when World Cup-winning wing Bryan Habana showed the form that once made him the world’s best player.
The set pieces were pretty even, although the players at times found Australian referee Stuart Dickinson’s interpretations at the scrum a bit puzzling.
In the end it was the Bulls’ greater physicality in the contact situation – on defence and at the breakdown – that was the real difference.
The Bulls made a strong start and in no time had a penalty right in front – when the Force players came in at the side of a ruck and Morné Steyn made it 3-0.
But the visitors’ riposte was swift, with Matt Giteau spotting space behind the Bulls defence and a sweetly-timed chip kick saw fullback Drew Mitchell race clear and over for a try. Giteau made it 7-3 with the conversion.
However, it was that man Bryan Habana who provided the next bit of magic. Coming up in support on the right he showed some good footwork and that blistering pace of his to go through the smallest of gaps for his team’s first try. There was some good build-up work by his teammates earlier, but Habana had finally showed the class that had been missing from his game.
Steyn’s conversion attempt was wide of the mark, but at 8-7 the Bulls were back in the lead after an action-packed first 10 minutes.
But they game then subsided into a lull, with some very ordinary kicking on both sides, with the territorial game at a premium.
There were some moments, mostly by the Bulls, that had the crowd cheering in delight. But errors dominated the landscape in the first half-an-hour.
Discipline, or rather the lack of it, cost the Bulls in the 35th minute – when Pierre Spies gave a away and penalty and Matt Giteau put his team back in the lead.
Again the reply was swift and furious – with Deon Stegmann winning a crucial turnover that saw the Bulls charge upfield – ending with tighthead prop Werner Kruger barreling over for a try. Steyn’s conversion made it 15-10.
That’s how it stayed till the half-time break.
The Bulls got the second half off to a flying start. From a line-out inside the Force half they took it wide and Odwa Ndungane bust through in midfield, before going wide again where Zane Kirchner strolled over in the corner – a simple, basic set-piece move executed to perfection. The conversion was again wide, but at 20-10 it left the Bulls at least two scores clear.
The next real scoring opportunity also went to the Bulls, when Bryan Habana was taken out off the ball and Steyn made it 23-10 in the 51st minute.
Another Steyn penalty made it 26-10, with 25 minutes to go, but the Force were not about to raise the white flag.
The visitors were brought back into the game when their dangerous runners found time and space out wide and wing Cameron Shepherd went over in the corner after a beautifully worked set-piece move. The conversion was wide, but at 15-26 the visitors had a sniff.
However, the Bulls were in control and with just a quarter of the match to go prop Gürthro Steenkamp was just short – the TMO finding some space between the tryline and the ball.
But the Bulls had a penalty advantage for offside and Steyn made it 29-15 – leaving the Force at least two converted tries behind.
The next crucial play was a Morné Steyn shoulder charge on Matt Giteau, which earned him a yellow card and a spot in the sin bin with just over 10 minutes on the clock remaining.
And the Force soon made their numerical advantage count as they first took it patiently through the phases, before replacement Josh Tatupu went over next to the upright. Giteau’s conversion brought the Force back to within a converted try and 22-29.
However, a powerful scrum by the Bulls soon afterwards earned the men from Pretoria a penalty and replacement Burton Francis stepped up to give his team some breathing space at 32-22.
The Force showed desire and intent, soon finding themselves winning a couple of penalties close to the Bulls’ line. But knowing that they needed at least one more converted try to get back within striking distance they opted for a scrum.
And the try came with two minutes to go, as Ryan Cross found his way over after another patient build-up by the Force. Giteau’s conversion made it a three-point game at 29-32.
However the Bulls managed to shut out the game and the Force had to settle for the consolation of two bonus points.
Man of the match: Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell were the Western Force’s two main attacking weapons and David Pocock was huge on defence. Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, Wynand Olivier and Morné Steyn continued to put their hands up for Bok selection. Fourie du Preez, Pierre Spies, Victor Matfield, Danie Rossouw and Gurthrö Steenkamp all enhanced their Bok positions, while Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann showed their class as well. However, our award goes to Bulls wing Bryan Habana, who showed the magic that makes him so special - not to mention his much-improved workrate.
For the Bulls:
Tries: Habana, Kruger, Kirchner
Pens: Steyn 4, Francis
For the Western Force:
Tries: Mitchell, Shepherd, Tatupu
Cons: Giteau 2
Yellow card: Morné Steyn (Bulls, 69 – foul play, shoulder charge)Tweet