Stirling Mortlock’s injury time try was the stuff of legend at the bull ring on Friday night.
This was Vodacom Super 14 rugby, unlike the absolute disgrace that passed itself off as a tournament match in Johannesburg 90 minutes earlier. The better team got the win. Of that there is no doubt. The Brumbies scored three tries to Derick Hougaard’s six penalties and a drop goal, but fittingly they got the score that took them over the line with the last movement of the game.
Hougaard, who had given the Bulls the lead in injury time in the first half, also put the Bulls back into the lead with three minutes to go, courtesy of his third 50-plus metre try. The former Bok flyhalf never missed a kick, hardly missed a tackle and even tried to make two breaks. He missed one penalty kick to the corner, but he has not played better in this competition. Unfortunately for him, his best on the night was still short of Mortlock’s majestic display in the midfield.
Stephen Larkham, in his 100th match, provided the stability, Matt Giteau added guile and Mortlock capped the 10, 12 and 13 dominance with his most forceful showing in two seasons.
The Brumbies are now two from two on the road — and that is huge in this tournament. They are not a team easily beaten in Canberra, even in troubled times, and the last-minute escape at Loftus will prove significant when determining the semi-final draw.
The Bulls offered commitment and Hougaard, but they never looked like scoring because their pack never put them on the sort of roll that makes them unstoppable at home. The Bulls forwards were adequate but never dominant. George Smith ruled at the breakdown, although it was he who conceded the 77th minute penalty and with it almost the match.
The Brumbies, terrible on the road in South Africa and New Zealand in the last decade and only successful in 31 percent of matches played abroad, have started the new era with two away wins in Perth and Pretoria. They have also started the South African tour playing with more variety and certainly more common sense than we have seen from them in the past.
Often they’ve made all the play, only to lose to South African teams who benefit from intercepts, penalties and counter-attacking. On Friday night it would have been a mugging had they left without the points. They made the play throughout, backing themselves to score tries, but there was also maturity in a well thought and executed kicking game.
The old hands of Gregan and Larkham were confident and calm, Giteau was elusive and probing with his touchfinders, Rattlebones and Gerrard were pillars of strength on the wing and Mortlock was supreme. The Bulls, sadly, lacked the pedigree among their backs to counter the Brumbies attacking brilliance.
Wynand Olivier missed more tackles than the Proteas missed catches in the cricket series against Australia and Habana’s haste to come in off his wing for the intercept was exposed by the accuracy and timing of the Brumbies passing.
Hougaard almost won it for the Bulls, but his kicking and Johan Roets’s courage were small change when compared to the gold bars that lit up the Brumbies night in the form of Mortlock and his mates.
Hougaard kicked six penalties and a drop goal
Rathbone, Heenan and Mortlock scored tries and Mortlock kicked three conversions and two penalties for a 17 point haul.