The Bulls seriously dented the Waratahs’ play-off chances with a 16-13 victory at Loftus.
The Tahs needed at least four points from this game to ease the pressure on them but they took just one, making victory in their trip to Newlands next week crucial.
The Bulls weren’t spectacular but they were efficient and rightly came out of this one with the points.
With torrential rain battering Loftus officials should have called this one off and set up a swimming contest. To say conditions spoiled the spectacle would be a gross understatement. It completely destroyed it.
This meant the game was always going to take on a Test match nature, with both teams playing the percentages and seeking to gain territory by kicking into the corners. The set phases took on added importance and in this regard the teams couldn’t be separated.
The handling of both sides was understandably poor, but it made no sense to even attempt to get the ball through the hands considering they were dealing with a slippery pill.
When they opted to go the direct route and keep it in the heavies the Bulls looked the better side. They had been second best at the collision points in the early exchanges, but remedied that as the match progressed.
Their early lethargy in that facet of play did cost them, though, with Wycliff Palu setting off from 25m out, breaking a couple of tackles and offloading to Rob Horn to score. To their credit the Bulls never panicked and stuck to their attacking and defensive structures.
JP Nel was injured which prompted a backline reshuffle which saw Morne Steyn shift to inside centre with Wynand Olivier outside him.
Hougaard was in the match immediately, sinking a drop goal. The pivot has come in for a lot of criticism but nobody can dispute his value in conditions like these. He pinned the Tahs back in their half with a series of perfectly weighted nudges and kept picking off his strike runners with short pops. Nothing more was asked for or needed.
His opposite number Kurtley Beale opted for a series of grubbers through the Bulls defensive line who were pushing off the mark quickly to cut down his space. His influence would grow as the match progressed.
Steyn landed a penalty to take the Bulls into the break just a point shy of the visitors, and they started the second half brilliantly when Derick Kuun finished a long-range counter-attack that featured some superb inter-passing in the build up.
The Tahs, sensing their play-off hopes where under threat, cranked up the pressure. The Bulls, though, stood up to the challenge well and it was them who crafted the better chances. But decision-making and skills cost them and when Beale kicked a penalty to draw to within three points (13-10) the Bulls knew they had a tough 35 minutes ahead of them.
The young Tahs flyhalf then kicked a drop goal to level the scores. The Bulls, however, rallied and camped in the Tahs half but again they spurned a number of chances through poor handling. They eventually profited through a Steyn drop goal with seven minutes to play.
The Tahs stretched the Bulls in the closing stages and only an outstanding tackle by Wynand Olivier on Beale prevented them from stealing victory. They held on desperately for a well deserved win and in the process done a huge favour for their South African counterparts, the Stormers and Sharks.
Bulls- Try: Derick Kuun. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Drop goal: Derick Hougaard. Steyn. Penalty: Steyn
Waratahs- Try: Rob Horne. Conversion: Kurtley Beale. Penalty: Beale. Drop goal: Beale
By Ryan Vrede