The Bulls produced their finest performance of their campaign to down the Brumbies 28-17.
Australian teams are renowned for their intelligence and street smarts but that was certainly not in evidence at Loftus this evening. Instead it was the Bulls who boxed smarter, tackled harder, contested the breakdowns with greater intensity and showed a clinical edge with their scoring opportunities in a polished performance.
The Bulls looked the brighter in the early exchanges, troubling the Brumbies at the set phases and matching them in the collisions – blunting their ability to offload in the tackle and generate continuity.
But the Brumbies gradually dragged themselves back into the contest, thanks in large part to the Bulls’ ill-discipline, which saw them lose Zane Kirchner and Derick Kuun to the sin-bin in the first half.
However, instead of the Brumbies capitalising on that significant advantage, it was the depleted Bulls who put 10 points on the board, while the Brumbies managed just a penalty. Credit has to go to the Bulls’ defensive effort for repelling incessant waves attack, but poor handling and shocking execution in good field positions saw the Brumbies score just three points while playing against 14 men for 20 minutes of the first half.
They’ll lament their inability to punish the Bulls, but that has much to do with the youthfulness of their side. The senior heads needed to encourage them to stay composed and patient. Instead there was a desperation about their play when they had the advantage that cost them in the final equation.
The Bulls were on the scoreboard by the fourth minute, JP Nel crossing after the Bulls had sucked defenders in with a couple of phases in the Brumbies 22m. The ball was recycled to Wynand Olivier who spotted the overlap out wide and threw a long pass to Nel, who carried a defender over the tryline on his back.
Morne Steyn and Stirling Mortlock traded penalties before the Brumbies scored through Alister Campbell. The Bulls slipped a tackle in midfield, allowing the Brumbies to get the ball out to the wing. The visitors set up a phase and recycled quickly – Tyrone Smith finding Campbell running a superb angle.
Kirchner was pinned for a dangerous tackle in the build-up and earned an unwanted rest. His side, however, showed bags of character to be the next to score – Wikus van Heerden driving through a ruck on the tryline following some outstanding build up play.
The Brumbies surged into the Bulls’ 22m and camped there for seven minutes. However all they could show for their effort was three points and the consolation of having Derick Kuun sin-binned for repeated infringements.
Steyn kicked a penalty just after half-time, but the Brumbies looked the better side.
When they controlled the play through the phases they troubled the Bulls. They also found some joy from numerous inside passes from flyhalf Christian Lealiifano to strike runners who routinely crossed the gain line. Sadly that seemed to be the only avenue of attack that that they profited from.
The Bulls shored up their defence as the half progressed and delivered a number of punishing tackles that rocked the Brumbies ball carriers. The Australians looked every bit as clueless as they had against the Stormers last week and just never looked like unhinging the Bulls’ line from structured play.
That pressure defence sucked the fight out of the Brumbies and the Bulls grabbed their third try through Olivier who received the ball 15m out from goal, dummied a pass to his outside and stepped inside the cross cover to score. The Brumbies grabbed a consolation try but the contest was over at that stage.
The Brumbies never asked the right questions this evening but the Bulls will certainly be mulling over one: where were these types of performances all season?
Bulls - Try: JP Nel, Wikus van Heerden, Wynand Olivier. Conversion: Morne Steyn (2). Penalty: Morne Steyn (3)
Brumbies - Try: Alister Campbell, Peter Kimlin. Conversion: Stirling Mortlock (2). Penalty: Mortlock.
By Ryan Vrede