The Reds delivered a massive gutsy effort to shock the Bulls 20-19 in a thrilling Vodacom Super 14 encounter in Brisbane on Saturday.
The defeat makes qualifying for the play-offs for the Bulls very difficult. They return to South Africa on Sunday and will probably need to win their remaining matches against the Cats, Sharks, Crusaders (all at Loftus) and Stormers at Newlands if they hope to sneak into the last semi-final spot. One more loss and it looks like no SA team will make as far as the semi stage.
The Bulls led 14-13 at the break and while it was a largely even half, reflected by the score-line, the Reds amazingly dominated the forward exchanges. The Bulls lineout, feared and revered the world over, was shoddy in the first half, particularly when hooker Gary Botha butchered two early throws that handed the Reds an early advantage.
The Reds made a mockery of the theory that teams struggle in their first match after travelling east. In the first half, it was the Bulls that looked lethargic and devoid of ideas going forward.
With the Reds also hampered by the late withdrawal of talismanic fullback Chris Latham minutes before kick-off that disrupted their backline, it was expected that the Bulls would come out firing.
Instead it was the Reds that looked like the team that had been Down Under for the past month. They took the lead when scrumhalf Josh Valentine scampered over after about 12 minutes.
The Bulls, to their credit, never let the Reds get too far ahead and actually ended the half with a slim one-point lead. It was, however, far from the stuff that serious title contenders would have been happy with.
The feared rolling maul didnâ€™t have the usual punch. But the Reds were playing thinking rugby, best illustrated by a lineout midway through the first stanza that saw the Reds step back. They waited for the ball to be transferred to the man at the back of the maul and then joined and were duly awarded a penalty for obstruction.
Plays like that are never seen employed by SA franchises and helped keep the Reds in touch as they started to be outgunned up front, but that Bulls dominance was only fleeting in this department. The home side then went 20-14 up when replacement Lloyd Johansson scythed through the Bulls line to crash over despite the considerable attentions of Bryan Habana.
It set up an intriguing last 20 minutes. But the silly mistakes that had bedevilled the first hour of the match for the Bulls continued to hamper their chances. If truth be told the Bulls hardly got out of second gear.
The introduction of Jaco van der Westhuyzen in the final quarter provided some much-needed spark. He was also used at first receiver on a number of occasions. Whether it was the Springbokâ€™s influence or something else, the Bulls started to play.
A clever chip by Fourie du Preez for Habana to chase bounced too high, but Danie Rossouw followed up superbly for his teamâ€™s third five-pointer on 66 minutes. Steyn missed the conversion and it was again a one-point ball game.
The Reds though regained at least parity in the scrums and the Bulls continued to make errors that cost them the chance to get into a scoring opportunity as the clock ticked down.
In the end it was the Reds that finished the stronger for their second win on the trot.
Try: Josh Valentine, Lloyd Johansson
Con: Julian Huxley 2
Pen: Huxley 2
Tries: Bakkies Botha, Jacques Cronje, Danie Rossouw
Con: Morne Steyn 2
By Andrew Hollely