Gutsy Bulls steal it in Sydney
It was never going to be pretty but the Vodacom Bulls produced a gutsy performance to steal a 27-24 victory over the Waratahs in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Sydney on Friday.
This was never going to be a match where flash and dash dominated and it was very appropriate that the Bulls scored their winning try three minutes from the end through one of their unsung heroes of the campaign, tighthead prop Werner Kruger.
The guts shown by the team in securing the victory cannot be underestimated, as they overcame a poor start and with little ball throughout the game managed to win the second game on tour for the first time since 2007 – which was ironically also against the Waratahs.
In doing so they kept their unbeaten record against the Tahs since 2005, and have won now three times in a row in Sydney, no mean feat indeed.
However, the manner in which they kept in touch with a Waratahs team playing most of the rugby, and pounced at the right moment was exceptional, with halfback Francois Hougaard standing head and shoulders above his peers with a brilliant performance behind the scrum.
It looked as if the Bulls had lost their opportunity as they fluffed a lineout five metres out, only to have Hougaard catch No 8 Sitaleki Timani behind the scrum and with the help of former SA under-20 captain Arno Botha, drag him back over his own tryline.
It was a defining moment in the game, one which signified that while this Bulls team is far from the completed product, it certainly has the character and heart to grind out a result.
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The Bulls then took their scrum feed and punched up at the line. Twice they were stopped before Werner Kruger looked to be short, only to be dragged over by the momentum of his teammates behind him.
For the Waratahs it was heartbreaking stuff. They had played a decent game and certainly did enough to warrant a result, but also allowed the Bulls way too much leeway for comfort, and at this level that is deadly.
Hougaard though was outstanding, and his performance reminded us why Fourie du Preez willingly wanted to stand back for him in the national team this week. An exceptionally classy player, his upper body strength and drive to succeed can only be a positive for Heyneke Meyer’s Bok side.
But Hougaard is more than that. While at times he struggles with the small amount of space given to him behind the scrum as opposed to the acres of space on the wing, he certainly has that x-factor that opposition teams struggle to deal with.
It was never more apparent than after falling behind 10-3 after seeing very little of the ball in the opening stanza, that it was Hougaard that brought the team back into the game.
The Bulls certainly were looking shaky after Rob Horne had found acres of space when Johan Sadie fell for the dummy runner from the Waratahs' attacking platform. But they were given the impetus to attack when Dean Mumm upended Juandre Kruger from a lineout and earned himself 10 minutes on the sidelines for the indiscretion.
Hougaard took the ball close to the line, drove back prop Benn Robinson, slipped the tackle of Rocky Elsom and took Sarel Pretorius back a metre to score in sensational fashion.
At 10-10 the Bulls seemed a bit lucky to be in that position, but the Waratahs soon grabbed the ascendancy again through the boot of Berrick Barnes to head into halftime at 13-10 up.
Barnes made it 16-10 early in the second half as the Bulls struggled to get their hands on the ball, and when they did, were prone to unforced errors.
The break eventually came through some hard graft close to the line which saw two penalty attempts turned down, and then a perfect set of quick hands down the line for Akona Ndungane to retake the lead with a well-worked try.
But from the kickoff they lost the ball and it wasn’t long before Afa Pakalani had restored the lead after the Bulls' defence was stretched on the outside.
At 21-17 it was set for a close finish, but with Steyn and Brendan McKibbon both dead shot with the boot, the teams went into the last 10 minutes with the Bulls 24-20 behind.
Then came the Bulls' guts, and character closed out the game for them.
Tougher opposition still lies ahead in the Highlanders and Chiefs, but two from two in Australia and top of the log in South Africa is a good way to end off the first leg of the tour.
The Bulls know they may have stolen this one on Friday, but the guts shown in victories like this will go a long way when the crunch games come.
Waratahs – Tries: Ron Horne, Afa Pakalani. Conversion: Berrick Barnes. Penalties: Barnes(2), Brendan McKibbin.
Bulls – Tries: Francois Hougaard, Akhona Ndungane, Werner Kruger. Conversions: Morne Steyn (3). Penalties: Steyn (2).