RYAN VREDE watched the Bulls hold on desperately at the death for a 32-30 victory over the Crusaders at Loftus.
The Bulls led 32-16 with eight minutes to play and it seemed to be over as a contest at that stage. But the Saders refused to relent and in the end were denied by a knock on as they went in search of the decisive score. They were outplayed for large sections of the second half but will still feel gutted at coming so close and missing out. The Bulls, conversely, will take this win, even if their performance, particularly in the first half, lacked polish.
Like the Stormers last week, the Crusaders’ challenge was built primarily on an immense tackle fight. They pounded the Bulls’ strike runners consistently and brutally in the first 40 minutes, seldom allowing them momentum at the gainline, then flooded the breakdown, ensuring a slow recycle. As a result the Bulls simply were never allowed to settle into a groove and never posed any significant try-scoring threat.
Their kick-chase method was compromised by this stifled service to their halfback pair, with numerous kicks not finding their mark and offering the visitors opportunities from broken field. Francois Hougaard continues to struggle with the directive of launching the high ball. He isn’t as adept at that skill as he is running the ball and the Bulls would do well to better utilise his strengths. His performance when asked to shift to the wing late in the piece will fuel the fire of those who believe he is best deployed there.
The hosts also continued their uncharacteristically poor form on defence, allowing the Saders to breach their line on more occasions than they will be comfortable with. The tourists’ first try was a prime and the most costly example, Werner Kruger and Pierre Spies both failing to halt Kieran Read’s charge for the tryline. And the Saders’ two late strikes again featured some shoddy defensive work from the Bulls.
The Bulls trailed 13-9 going down the tunnel, Dan Carter adding a conversion and penalty to Read’s try, while Morne Steyn banked three penalties. The Bulls sparked to life early in the second half, running from broken field in a move that culminated in prop Dean Greyling selling Israel Dagg a dummy of note en route to the tryline. Steyn converted and later added three more penalties to give the Bulls a 25-16 lead going into the final quarter.
The Bulls had seemingly absorbed the best the Saders could offer and patently had the ascendancy as the match progressed. With 12 minutes to play they set up a rolling maul that drove them deep into the Saders’ territory and when the ball came out to Steyn the flyhalf chipped through a kick that bounced favourably for Wynand Olivier to collect and score.
Steyn kicked his 22nd point with the conversion but the Saders struck back immediately through a converted tries from Zac Guilford and Tom Marshall to set up a tense closing 30 seconds. But the Saders weren’t able to drive themselves into a kickable position or breach the Bulls’ defensive line to steal the win.