The Bulls made it thirteen wins on the bounce at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, following a thrilling 48-38 Super 14 victory over the Waratahs.
The Bulls made it thirteen wins on the bounce at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, following a thrilling 48-38 victory over the Waratahs in a frantic Super 14 spectacle.
In what was an enthralling encounter, the hosts had to overcome a 17-point deficit to beat a spirited Waratahs outfit who – like the Brumbies before them – surged into an early lead but failed to go the whole nine yards.
The Bulls fell short of their fourth successive half-century by just two points, but did do enough to get their third successive five-pointer in three matches to remain at the top of the Super 14 table.
In a first half dominated by the Waratahs, the Bulls made too many errors – not all of them due to pressure – and looked a listless unit before the break. The hosts turned that around after trailing 26-17 at half-time when they ran in four of their six tries.
A shocked Loftus crowd saw the Bulls trailing 17-0 after only ten minutes following two tries and a penalty by the Waratahs – and it only got worse, albeit not on the scoreboard, as the visitors exerted huge pressure on the Bulls and upset their rhythm.
The first try saw hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau bust over from close range, while the second featured superb interplay and support running in an expansive move with flank Ben Mowen rounding off and centre Berrick Barnes converting.
Counter-rucking, good first phase ball and a number of turnovers kept the home side under pressure in the fist half – not to mention at least three professional fouls that elicited nothing more than penalties from referee Marius Jonker.
The Waratahs continued to build on their score through Barnes, who was successful with his first five attempts at the posts and also slotted a well-taken drop goal.
Although the Bulls had started pulling themselves together to some extent, they were still far from the machine they were expected to be by their supporters. It was the third time in their three matches in this campaign that the Bulls have had to play catch-up before eventually winning rather comfortably.
When the ball went wide, Bulls pivot Morne Steyn passed inside to winger Francois Hougaard, who dashed for the line. Steyn converted to reduce the deficit to ten points.
He then traded three-pointers with Barnes, but the Waratahs re-established a formidable 16-point lead after landing the drop goal and another penalty.
The closest the Bulls came to the Waratahs' lead in the first half was after 33 minutes when centre Stephan Dippenaar took an inside pass to score their second try and shrink the lead by seven points before the break.
There seemed to be more Bulls resolve after half-time, and Steyn pulled back three points shortly after the restart. Then came the best few moments of the match up to that stage.
First Danie Rossouw poached a Waratahs line-out, Dippenaar did well to get the ball to wing Gerhard van den Heever who set up a ruck, and then the ball went back to the other side of the field for Derick Hougaard to score his second.
With Steyn slotting the conversion from the touchline, the Bulls were ahead for the first time of the match (27-26) after 48 minutes.
Not to be outdone, Waratahs wing Lachlan Turner replied two minutes later, and despite Barnes missing his first kick from six attempts, the visitors were ahead again at 31-27.
It took five minutes of relentless pressure from the Bulls before they abolished their plans to drive over. They played it to the right and Van den Heever scored with Steyn again converting from touch (34-31).
The pressure eventually told when the Bulls set up a ruck after a scrum and Wynand Olivier simply ran straight through for his try under the posts.
Steyn kicked his seventh from seven attempts, and then had the ignominy of seeing Drew Mitchell skip over him as he attempted a tackle on the Wallabies winger who scored after a long run down the touchline. Replacement back Kurtley Beale converted.
At 41-38 the game was very much on again, with nine minutes remaining.
But the Bulls, as they do so well, fought back with some judicious kicks and pinned the Waratahs in their own half with their sixth try coming from a neat stab-kick from Steyn that was plucked from the air by replacement Jacques-Louis Potgieter under the posts.
Steyn added the conversion for a match contribution of 18 points.
Tries: Hougaard 2, Dippenaar, Van den Heever, Olivier, Potgieter
Cons: Steyn 6
Pens: Steyn 2
Tries: Polota-Nau, Mowen, Turner, Mitchell
Cons: Barnes 2, Kurtley Beale
Pens: Barnes 3
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Danie Rossouw, 7 Pedrie Wannenburg, 6 Derick KuÃ¼n, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 GurthrÃ¶ Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Deon Stegmann, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 John Mametsa/Jaco van der Westhuyzen.
Waratahs: 15 Sosene Anesi, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Tom Carter, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Will Caldwell, 19 Locky McCaffrey, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Rob Horne.
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)