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Super 14 - Round 7 Review
Bulls struggle past stubborn Force
Scrum.com
March 27, 2010
The Bulls' Jaco Pretorius attempts to gather a loose ball while being tackled by Ryan Cross, Western Force v the Bulls, Super 14, ME Bank Stadium, Perth, Australia, March 27, 2010
The Bulls' Jaco Pretorius attempts to gather a loose ball under pressure from Ryan Cross © Getty Images
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The Bulls maintained their 100 percent record in this year's Super 14 with a 28-15 victory over Western Force on Saturday but the table-toppers were made to work surprisingly hard for their victory.

The game in Perth pitted a side with five successive wins to their name against one with five successive losses to theirs. However, while the on-form Bulls made a fine start to the game, racking up a try through Pierre Spies after just eight minutes of play, the Force dug in resolutely and the impeccable goal-kicking of James O'Connor helped them into a 12-10 advantage at the break against all the odds.

A fifth penalty of the game from O'Connor saw the hosts extend their lead to five points shortly after the restart but the Bulls responded with a try from Morne Steyn before the sin-binning of Ryan Cross turned the game decisively in their favour.

Zane Kirchner crossed moments after the centre had seen yellow and although the Force kept battling right until the end the Bulls, ultimately, ran out easy winners.

A rout had looked on the cards after a horribly one-sided opening to the game. Indeed, the Bulls had spent the opening eight minutes camped in the Force 22 before Spies spun out of a tackle and planted the ball over the whitewash.

The Bulls had the look of a side intent on racking up a bonus point as early as possible and they repeatedly turned down strikes on goal in favour of kicks to touch. The Force were not so foolish and O'Connor hauled the home side to within a point by the midway point of the first half with two well-struck penalties.

Seeing that the Force were well up for the fight, the Bulls finally decided to take the points on offer when another penalty came their way on 33 minutes and Steyn split the sticks to extend the visitors' lead to four points.

However, in spite of their undeniable superiority all over the park, the men from Pretoria went in trailing at the break after two more swings of O'Connor's reliable right boot. The Force sensed a massive upset, even more so after O'Connor had struck again on 48 minutes.

The Bulls, though, were not about to suffer the ignominy of becoming the Force's first victims of the 2010 campaign and Steyn breaking out of a weak challenge to touch down in the 56th minute. The Springbok fly-half added the extras and then stroked over a penalty just after the hour-mark to extend the Bulls' advantage to five points.

The Force were struggling to stay in touch and their hopes of doing so were dealt a hammer blow when Ryan Cross, who had been caught offside, was yellow carded after being made the scapegoat for his side's incessant ill-discipline.

The Bulls, unsurprisingly, made their numerical advantage count almost immediately. Flip van der Merwe stormed through the heart of the Force defence and after the ball had been swiftly wide through the hands of Victor Matfield and Dewald Potgieter, Kirchner dived over in the right corner unchallenged. Steyn was unable to convert this time around but he landed a penalty with eight minutes remaining to seal a sixth successive win for the Bulls.

Flying wing Lachie Turner stole victory for the Waratahs with a 90-metre intercept try in an entertaining 39-32 win over the gallant Blues at Sydney Football Stadium.

With the Blues three ahead and swooping for the killer blow in the left corner, Turner gambled with a last ditch dart into the line that paid off perfectly. Fresh from a lengthy blood-bin treatment, he had the legs to gallop away for the game-turner under the posts. Flyhalf Dean Halangahu converted an added a further penalty to secure the win and take his personal tally to 24 for the night.

Dean Mumm and Halangahu got the hosts off to a flying start in front of their expectant home faithful with tries inside ten minutes. The Blues love to attack though and Rudi Wulf hit back soon after. The hard-running Halangahu, who outshone out-of-form No.12 Berrick Barnes, grabbed his second before Isaia Toeava responded again.

The Blues' powerhouse outside centre Rene Ranger, one of the stars of the tournament so far, crossed each side of the break to hand his side the lead. A clever short line-out set play by Tatafu Polota-Nau, returned straight to him, allowed the Waratahs hooker a free run up the sideline to charge through Wulf and score his third of the season.

Stephen Brett's penalty kicking kept the Blues in the advantage position, though, until their attack-from-anywhere policy finally backfired in the 71st minute through Turner's runaway effort.

Ruan Pienaar's post-hooter penalty from the halfway line wrapped up the Sharks' second win of the season while the Hurricanes shared the disappointment of the Westpac Stadium crowd in their tragic 29-26 loss.

The 'Canes staged a fine second-half fightback and squared the ledger at 26-all with a 75th-minute converted try to Victor Vito. Piri Weepu had added the extra two points under immense pressure, shooting from out wide but rushing through his motion to give his side a chance to come back to the Sharks' end for a win.

Hurricanes starlet Aaron Cruden had come on at half time to inspire his team's comeback with some evasive running, but his midfield dart with 30 seconds left led to a turnover and a penalty to the Sharks. It was left to Pienaar to break the deadlock and he was swamped by his team-mates as the ball sailed over.

Patrick Lambie had crossed early in the match and Will Ripia traded penalties with Pienaar to keep the hosts within seven points at half time. The shootout continued in a scrappy, penalty-riddled match before JP Pietersen's 65th-minute try looked to secure victory for the visitors.

But Ma'a Nonu and then Vito crossed as the Hurricanes finally came to life, bringing things level for the first time since the third minute, only to see hope turn to despair at the last.

The Reds continued their positive start to the season with a comprehensive 31-10 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Will Genia, Peter Hynes and Digby Ioane scored tries for the Queenslanders, taking them into fifth on the ladder. The Cheetahs, who lost skipper Juan Smith prior to kick-off due to a family illness, could only muster a try through No.8 Ashley Johnson in response.

Meyer Bosman punished an early scrum penalty against Reds youngster Ben Daley by slotting a long-range penalty but the visitors pulled ahead with an excellent try from their skipper. Van Humphries and Jake Schatz made room with bustling runs and Genia was on hand to collect the ball and dummy the remaining defenders to trot over untouched.

Quade Cooper's conversion faded wide and the fly-half was then guilty of a petulant trip deep in Cheetahs' territory, earning 10 minutes and likely the hairdryer treatment from Ewen McKenzie on Monday morning. There will be nowhere to hide for the mercurial playmaker, particularly as Johnson punished his indiscretion with a try off the base of a five-metre scrum, crashing over through the unguarded 10 channel.

The Reds went in with a one-point lead at half-time, thanks to a Cooper penalty struck with the last kick of the opening period. They extended their advantage with the first score of the second-half, another Cooper penalty, and their second try, which went to Hynes following a quick tap in the shadow of the posts.

Cooper landed another penalty to take the game away from the Cheetahs and Ioane was able to burrow over for another score after Genia had picked up the pace with another quick tap close to the opposition line.

Fullback Israel Dagg kicked the Highlanders to a 39-29 win over the struggling Lions in Dunedin on Friday.

That the Lions scored five tries away from home and came away with just a bonus point is quite a statistic, but Dagg nailed nine out of ten kicks at goal for a 24-point haul as the hosts got their second win of the season. The result was the Johannesburg based side's seventh defeat on the trot.

Poor tackling and indiscipline cost them dear as referee Stuart Dickinson's was a busy man. Centre Walter Venter received a yellow card after 62 minutes and the Highlanders struck for a crucial penalty try in his absence. The under pressure visiting pack hauled down a rolling maul just short of the line and the Australian referee ran under the posts.

The Lions were in dreamland on the south island early on as they ran in three tries in the opening 20 minutes through Michael Killian, Cobis Grobelaar and Wigan Pekeur crossing. But former All Black Carlos Spencer's radar was off and he missed three of his four kicking opportunities.

And Dagg made him pay, with lock Hayden Triggs scoring the Highlanders only first-half try after 30 minutes and the fullback knocking over four penalties in seven minutes either side of half-time to edge his side in front. Kendrick Lynn crossed for a try, before the penalty try and further kicks from Dagg sealed the win, as tries from JP Joubert and Pekeur failed to reduce the deficit sufficiently.

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