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Rugby | Absa Currie Cup

Flip Van der Merwe © Gallo Images

Bulls storm back to win thriller



The Blue Bulls recovered from an appalling start to score an impressive come-from-behind win over Western Province that throws the race for home ground advantage in the Absa Currie Cup semifinals wide open.

It was WP who had all the play in the early stages of a match which was played in stifling 31 degree heat, and when they took a 16-3 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half and the Bulls were at the same time reduced to 14 men, it looked like the Cape team were on their way to a rare win at their long-time hoodoo venue.

However, almost as if that was the moment that they became complacent and thought they had the game wrapped up, it was during the 10 minutes that Bulls flanker Dewald Potgieter was off the field that WP, in a manner of speaking, spat the dummy.

Instead of exploiting the advantage in numbers, WP started to make mistakes, became guilty of trying to rush things, and by the time the 10 minutes was up they hadn’t added to the penalty that Willem de Waal had kicked as a result of the incident that saw Potgieter get his marching orders.

It needs to be noted that it was probably justice that WP didn’t wrap up the game in that 10 minutes while he was off, as they probably should have done. The replay on the big screen at Loftus suggested that Gio Aplon had slipped, instead of being tripped up by the Bulls flanker.

The real message that the Bulls were back in the game came though on the stroke of half time. For most of the first half the Bulls tactic of kicking onto the WP back three had yielded no profit, with Conrad Jantjes in particular being solidity personified under the barrage.

However the WP catchers did start making mistakes late in the half, and from one of those the Bulls were able launch a multi-phase attack off a scrum that eventually resulted in Okkie Kruger going over in the corner for a try that was converted by Jacques-Louis Potgieter to bring the Bulls back into the match at just the right moment.

WP were a bit unlucky in conceding the score for it was the result of Aplon receiving an accidental kick in the eye, but full marks to Bulls scrumhalf Francois Hougaard for his quick thinking in sending the play in the direction of where the WP wing was on his knees holding onto his eye.

DE VILLIERS ERROR

If the Bulls were back in the match at 16-10 down at the break, you could say they took control of it, thanks mainly to a massive error from WP’s experienced inside centre Jean de Villiers, in the minute after half time.

WP kicked off deep, and from a loose scrum Potgieter cleared, only to be tackled late and high by De Villiers. If the sending off of the Blue Bull in the first half was a mistake, this time Joubert had no option as he took the advice of the assistant referee who correctly ruled it was an offence that warranted a card.

Whereas WP had not made their advantage in numbers count in the first half, the Bulls exploited it immediately as first Potgieter kicked the penalty to bring his team to three points behind Province, and then the Bulls turned over a good take from WP’s Pieter Louw at a lineout near half-way to set in motion the move that led to centre Stefan Watermeyer going over in the corner.

Jaco van der Westhuyzen played a big role in the score with his little kick ahead that was gathered for the Bulls by Watermeyer, who shook off some ineffectual WP tackling. The Province defence looked at sixes and sevens at this stage, and WP did well to hold onto the ball long enough in the rest of the time that De Villiers was off the field not to concede another try.

Indeed, WP pulled three points back through De Waal before De Villiers rejoined the fray, but the return to a 15 against 15 game did nothing for WP as suddenly they started missing tackles as the Bulls took advantage of the space allowed them up the middle. The try that Zane Kirchner scored in the corner had an air of inevitability about it as the Bulls looked highly effective surging through, and eventually they just sucked enough WP defenders to create the overlap.

WP struck back with a penalty, but in the second half every time WP scored it seemed to just be the cue for the Bulls to score themselves, and WP were fortunate to force an exciting finish when Aplon seized on a ridiculously wayward pass from Chiliboy Ralepelle in front of his own posts to make it a one point game with nine minutes to go.

But although suddenly under pressure, the Bulls showed their championship composure by forcing most of the last minutes to be played in the WP half, and when another Potgieter penalty from near halfway forced them to look for a try for the win, the contest was effectively over.

It was a weird finish though as the log situation is intriguing. By winning, the Bulls both pulled back to within two log points of WP, but also assured the Sharks of a top placed finish. By failing to pick up a four-try bonus point, the Bulls find themselves in a situation where they are going to have to rely on the Sharks beating WP at Newlands in the final league match in order to secure home ground advantage in the semis.

Had the Bulls scored a fourth try, and they had a last-minute penalty which they could have driven at the WP line, they would have picked up a fifth bonus point and in denying WP one that would have meant Province needed to win with four tries against their coastal rivals, a much tougher proposition than just winning.

b>Scores

Blue Bulls 36 – Tries: Okkie Kruger, Stefan Watermeyer and Zane Kirchner; Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter 3; Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter 4; Drop-goal: Jaco van der Westhuyzen.
Western Province 32 – Tries: Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon; Conversions: Willem de Waal 2; Penalties: Willem de Waal 6.

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