RYAN VREDE watched the Bulls score in the closing stages to register an impressive and vital 27-24 victory over the Waratahs in Sydney.
Werner Kruger surged over the tryline with four minutes to play and Morne Steyn, flawless with the boot once more, landed the conversion that gave the Bulls the narrow lead and ultimately the victory.
After trailing for the majority of the match the Bulls summoned the composure and resolve that was the hallmark of their championship sides of 2007, 2009 and 2011. Many thought those qualities would disappear after the mass exodus of senior players last year. But this youthful Bulls side continue to defy expectations.
The Tahs will lament their impotency in light of their possession and territorial dominance. They ticked all the main boxes you need to in order to beat the Bulls: physicality and accuracy at the gainline on attack and defence, an excellent kicking game that counters the Bulls’, and a committed chase that exerts pressure on the receiver. They also once again exposed the Bulls’ Achilles heel, discipline at scrum time (they lead the tournament in scrum penalties conceded). Some fundamental handling errors and missed touch kicks further undermined the Bulls’ cause. But the Tahs lacked a killer instinct and paid for that.
The Bulls trailed 13-10 at the break despite being second best for the better part of the first half. It was a good position considering they spent much of the 40 repelling the Tahs in their 22m.
There was an improvement on the poor defence that had marked their last two matches, but a questionable decision to shift inside from midfielder Johann Sadie saw Rob Horne slice through the line to score the game’s first try.
The Tahs lost Dean Mumm to the sin bin in the 22nd minute and Francois Hougaard hauled the Bulls into the contest shortly thereafter, powering through three tackles en route to the tryline. Steyn converted but Berrick Barnes kicked a penalty just before half-time to give his side a three-point lead going down the tunnel.
Barnes banked three more points after the restart but the Bulls refused to relent and going into the final quarter they scored through Akona Ndungane after a quick-tap move. Steyn added the extras, but, as they had done last week against the Rebels, the Bulls conceded almost immediately, wing Atieli Pakalani finishing in the corner.
You sensed then that the Tahs would close the game out but their visitors made a statement with their ability to call on their reserves in striking the late death blow after being pounded for most of the contest.