Bulls sneak narrowest of victories
March 19, 2010
The Bulls' Victor Matfield wins a lineout on his 100th Super Rugby appearance
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The Bulls secured a narrow 19-18 victory over the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld to keep alive their unbeaten start to the Super 14 season, but were made to work hard by a team smarting after a poor tour to South Africa.
The visitors outscored the Bulls two tries to one, with flanker Karl Lowe and lock Jeremy Thrush going over in the first-half, but it was the boot of Morne Steyn that again proved to be the difference. The Springbok fly-half converted Zane Kirchner's try and slotted four penalties to keep the Bulls clear at the top with a game in hand on their rivals.
The early pressure came from the home side through their forward pack, with Steyn passing up his first opportunity from the kicking tee in uncharacteristic fashion. The Bulls continued to press and Fourie du Preez and Deon Stegmann combined well to make big gains from a quick-tap penalty.
A knock-on from Alapati Leiva, the first of several, in his own 22 handed field position to the hosts but some sharp play by 'Canes scrum-half Tyson Keats punished inaccuracy at the scrum and relieved the pressure. After seeing off the early overtures from the Bulls' pack, the visitors struck for the first try.
The Bulls have been subscribing to the Brazilian footballing maxim of "you score four, we'll score five" so far this season and showed their defensive frailty with Lowe striking out wide. Steyn spilled Willie Ripia's long clearance into touch and from there the Hurricanes flooded the blindside, with Victor Vito and Rodney So'oialo exploiting a huge overlap with some quick hands to put Lowe over in the corner.
A second score followed in quick succession as the Hurricanes battered away at the Bulls on their 22. The forwards attacked the line in numbers and drove to within metres of the line, referee Steve Walsh signalling a penalty as the Bulls slowed the ball. Ma'a Nonu snaffled the ball and took a quick tap, standing up Gary Botha and Steyn before popping the ball to Thrush who made no mistake from close range.
The response was immediate from the Bulls but Francois Hougaard was denied by the TMO, with Tamati Ellison pulling off a brilliant try-saving tackle. Frome the ensuing scrum the Bulls drove hard at the Hurricanes' set-piece before unleashing their backline. Du Preez fired a wide pass to Gerhard van den Heever, who straightened the line before finding Kirchner and the fullback had the step to beat the cover. Steyn found his range with the conversion but the Hurricanes fired a broadside with a rasping counter-attack to remind the Bulls that they were in a game.
With half-time approaching Steyn slotted a simple penalty to bring the home side back to within two but the points were immediately handed back following Danie Rossouw's high-tackle on Keats, with Ripia having no problem despite the jeers of the Loftus faithful.
An uncharacteristic mistake from Du Preez allowed Ripia to extend the Hurricanes' lead just after the restart but then All Black hooker Andrew Hore was guilty of not rolling away and conceded three to the boot of Steyn.
A slip from referee Walsh, who forced Ellison to take a mark having not called it, allowed the Bulls a big territorial gain as the one-cap All Black sliced his clearance into touch. The big men rumbled forward and won a penalty, which was easily converted by Steyn.
The forward power of the Bulls began to tell as their maul took hold, with Vito seeing yellow for interfering as they bore down on the line. The seven-man pack of the visitors battled hard to stem the blue tide and were joined by their midfield, with Smith and Nonu flying up to force a vital turnover and release the pressure.
The brilliant defence continued but a dart from Wynand Olivier brought a vital three points as the Hurricanes went in at the side. Having survived off scraps of possession and been tormented by the bombs sent up by Du Preez, the Hurricanes were relieved when a penalty decision went their way for holding on, but their accuracy let them down at the lineout and their chance was lost.
The Bulls went back to the maul and won a further penalty, Steyn electing to kick to touch. Another maul followed and Du Preez orchestrated a series of pick and drives from the forwards that ran the clock down and secured that vital fourth victory for the Bulls.
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