The Bulls beat a determined Waratahs outfit 23-17 at Loftus Versfeld on Friday to keep their play-off hopes alive.
The Bulls beat a determined Waratahs outfit 23-17 at Loftus Versfeld on Friday to continue their late surge in Super Rugby and keep their play-off hopes alive.
The two tries to one victory sees the defending champions leapfrog the Waratahs into fifth spot on the ladder, while the visitors salvaged a losing bonus point in what was a rather bruising encounter.
It could have gone either way, and the Waratahs threatened to deny their hosts at the death after another deceptive attack from man-of-the-match Kurtley Beale. But the Bulls held on for a vital win, which could spell the end of the injury-hit Waratahs' campaign.
The visitors' casualty list will have a few more players added to it after this match, after losing prop Benn Robinson as well as his replacement Paddy Ryan during the course of the match.
It meant uncontested scrums, which proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Waratahs who managed to bag a try to Atieli Pakalani as a result which gave them a glimmer of hope after cutting the Bulls' lead down to six with 20 minutes remaining.
Beale made it a three-point ball game with his fourth successful penalty soon after. However, the match took a turn for the worst for the Waratahs after losing replacement forward Pat O'Connor in the 67th minute to a red card for “head-butting”.
It was a controversial call by the touch judge, and a costly one for the Waratahs after Bulls pivot Morne Steyn added futher salt to the Australians' wounds by converting the ensuing penalty to restore a six-point lead.
And that's how it stayed…
The key area where the Bulls won the match was in defence as the visiting side enjoyed the lions' share of possession throughout the contest.
Although the 'Tahs will be hugely disappointed in the result, they fought to the very last minute and did not back down in the physical battle they faced on the night.
After surviving close encounters with Bulls' flyer Bjorn Basson who came within inches of scoring from a turnover in the opening stages, the Waratahs picked up the first points of the match courtesy of a Beale penalty.
The men from Pretoria eventually managed to open their account through a Steyn three-pointer, but were still doing most of the tackling.
Beale converted another penalty to give his side a 6-3 lead and at that stage the Bulls were finding it particularly difficult to deal with Waratahs flank Chris Alcock's presence at the breakdown.
Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau was just as busy in the contact situations where both sides competed as if their lives depended on turning over possession.
Two moments late in the first half, however, seemed to shift momentum in favour of the Bulls. First scrum-half Francois Hougaard made a telling tackle on Alcock before Steyn landed a monster hit on Beale in midfield.
Steyn then nailed a penalty to draw the scores level in the 33rd minute.
The first-half highlight came just as the visitors thought they were in the clear. Wing Gerhard van den Heever burst though before sending centre Wynand Olivier over for a five-pointer on the half-time buzzer.
The Bulls picked up where they left off after the break when, after coming so close the first time, Basson was not going to make a hash of his second attempt and finished a counter-attack from the hosts' own tryline with precision.
With this try he equalled the Bulls' record of nine tries in a Super Rugby tournament held by Springbok speedster Bryan Habana.
Apart from another penalty exchange by the respective kickers, only Pakalani managed to trouble the scorers when he ran in the softest of tries in an otherwise brutal battle.
Tries: Olivier, Basson
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 3
Pens: Beale 4
Bulls: 15 Zane Kitchener, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretoruis, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Danie Rossouw, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Dustin Jinka, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Stephan Dippenaar.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Tom Carter, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Sosene Anesi, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Dean Mumm (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Pat O'Connor, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Hugh Perrett, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Atieli Pakalani.
Referee: Craig Joubert