Two shocking decisions, one by TMO Linston Manuels and the other by Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer, allowed the Hurricanes to stage a courageous comeback and silence Loftus with a shock 26-23 win in the Vodacom Super 14.
With the Bulls leading 20-12 after a Bryan Habana trademark intercept score in the 54th minute, captain Victor Matfield received possession in the Canes 22 and weighted the perfect kick through for Akona Ndungane to score his second. Bumbling ref George Ayoub sought the assistance of Manuels to confirm grounding. He was more cautionary than clueless.
The TV evidence was conclusive, a clear-cut score and a resultant lead the Bully Boys would be unlikely to lose. And yet Manuels, incoherently at first, his voice cracking with uncertainty ruled no try. Ayoub’s disbelief was clear, but paled when the Loftus hordes heard the crucial call.
With the Bulls out at 23-19, Meyer emptied his bench. On came the untried Andries Strauss, the rusty Morne Steyn and inexperienced Heini Adams and Tim Dlulane. Sadly for Tiger Tim, his 10 minute cameo was more embarrassing than imposing.
A conceded penalty for blatantly entering the ruck from the side, an unforgivable knock on with the Bulls on the charge set up the decisive moment that finished off the home side. With the Canes camped on the Bulls line, and bashing it up through the pack, Dlulane found himself as pillar defence at a ruck on his line.
The ball was picked up by hooker Andrew Hore, and inexplicably Dlulane left his post and drifted, leaving the simplest of snipes for the ‘Canes veteran and two consecutive victories for the Kiwi side on South African soil.
Dlulane’s display was not up to the standard of a club player, let alone provincial, regional or Springbok. The blame, however, cannot rest entirely on his slumped shoulders. Meyer did not read the pattern of the game, and by replacing grizzle with inexperience, saw composure disintegrate into panic and a battling win become a heartbreaking loss.
It is right to lament that a 13-0 lead became 13-12, and that 20-12 became 20-19, but only Meyer can explain why 23-19 became 23-26. In the context of the match and the momentum that was delicately balanced, his decisions were disastrous.
Derick Hougaard and Fourie du Preez’s tactical display worked the Bulls into the position to seal the match, and their inability to may be the result that haunts them when the semi-final places are decided.
Johan Roets is another who deserves special commendation, but ultimately the only stat worth considering is that Fortress Loftus has been sacked twice by Antipodeon opposition, twice more than last season.
The Canes showed the kind of fight and spirit unseen from the men in yellow on these shores, but this was a victory gifted and not gained.
Tries: Akona Ndungane and Bryan Habana
Cons: Derick Hougaard 2
Pens: Hougaard 3
Tries: Shannon Paku and Andrew Hore
Cons: Jimmy Gopperth 2
Pens: David Holwell 4
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
78 mins: Canes maul it up from a 5m lineout and after a few phases Hore snipes and there’s no pillar defence. The Canes steal the lead. Gopperth converts (Gopperth 2/3)
70 mins: Tim Dlulane is on the field, and within a minute he’s pinged for playing the ball on the ground. Gopperth can’t take advantage. (Gopperth 1/2)
66 mins: Hougaard keeps the Bulls marginally ahead as the Canes are penalised for pulling down the maul. Hougi kicking like a dream. (Hougaard 5/5)
62 mins: Canes score their first try through Shannon Paku. Bulls are hanging on by one after Jimmy Gopperth converts from the corner. (Gopperth 1/1)
56 mins: Shocking decision by the TMO!!! Ndungane scored a clear cut try after a fine kick through by Matfield. Awful decision, Bulls are robbed and Loftus is engulfed in fury.
54 mins: Canes all over the Bulls, but Habana makes the intercept. Still loads of work to do, a well weighted left footed kick ahead sees him gather and score. It’s an awesome try. Hougaard converts from the corner. (Hougaard 4/4)
49 mins: The Bulls have lost the momentum now and it’s menacing. They again are pinged in their 22, and Holwell takes advantage. (Holwell 4/4)
28 mins: Bulls didn’t concede one penalty in opening 17 minutes. Now they’ve conceded three, and all have been slotted. Danie Thiart the culprit at scrumtime. (Holwell 3/3)
24 mins: Bulls penalised again for holding on on the floor. This time it’s Pierre Spies. Holwell knocks it over and brings the Canes within seven. (Holwell 2/2)
22 mins: Canes struggling to assert themselves in the set pieces. Matfield marginally knocks another from Andrew Hore’s throw. Bulls win the ball and Olivier comes on the switch. He’s isolated, and David Holwell puts the Canes on the board. (Holwell 1/1)
16 mins: Du Preez does great work to steal from the feet of Rodney So’oialo at scrum time. The Bulls all over the Canes, Matfield with the clean of the tournament and a penalty bang in front for Hougaard. No problem. (Hougaard 3/3)
8 mins: Canes penalised at a ruck in their own 22, and Hougaard knocks it over. Bulls building up a head of steam. (Hougaard 2/2)
2 mins: Awesome start for the Bulls. Jerry Collins botches the lineout, it’s spread quickly by Du Preez and an well weighted kick by Johan Roets sees a great chase by Akona Ndungane who scores a FANTASTIC try. Derick Hougaard to convert right on the touchline, and he nails it. (Hougaard 1/1)