Bulls snatch defeat from the jaws of victory
Brenden Nel
May 26, 2018

In a classic case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Vodacom Bulls virtually ended any hope they had of making the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs with a 38-28 loss to the Brumbies at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Bulls, with a man to the good, managed to be out-thought and out-played by a 14-man Brumbies team who scored twice in the last quarter to register a famous victory for the Australian side.

To say the Bulls were their own worst enemies would be an understatement, and it would take away from the fine job done by the Brumbies on the field.

On the evidence of the game, there should have been no contest. The Bulls should have been comfortably up and, especially after Folau Faingaa’s red card, should have copied the Lions last week and put the Australian side away.

But they didn’t, and they suffered a brain freeze and some of the worst tackling of the season to allow the Brumbies back into the game and to snatch the win, and will now realise in the cold light of day that their last chances of making the playoffs have virtually slipped away.

It must be remembered that this is a Brumbies side that has lost the last five on the trot, and who for the second week running received a red card for indiscipline. Faingaa dived in from the side of the ruck to concede a penalty and then, in the argument that followed, went and head-butted Bulls replacement lock Matthys Basson.

It may not have been the hardest of head-butts, but it was a massive dose of stupidity by the hooker and prompted the obvious red – such acts can’t be tolerated in rugby.

But instead of repeating the Ellis Park performance and succumbing to the pressure, the Brumbies took a step up and when given the opportunity did the unthinkable – they won with 14 men.

It left the Bulls scratching their heads at the end of the game as to how they threw this one away. But they only need to look at their own inability in the first half when four kickable penalties were turned down and the lineout was chosen, only to come up with nothing.

There will be a bit of distaste with some of the refereeing decisions by the home side, especially the amount of leeway that David Pocock was given on the ground and how – in one instance – he got away with playing the ball blatantly on the ground in front of the referee without any sanction. But that is something that any team facing the Brumbies has to adapt to. Pocock is a legend of the breakdown and teams that don’t pay him the respect tend too suffer, hence the result here.

Pocock was easily the man of the first half, but scrumhalf Joe Powell was in the Bulls’ faces all along, and probably deserved the title.

The Bulls will be frustrated with their own play and the way they allowed the Brumbies - a side that frustrates and smothers more than they create – to stop their momentum. It shows this side still has a lot more learning to do, and that they will need to learn to win in more than one way in future.

It looked so easy at the start when Handre Pollard’s show and go broke the tackles and allowed the flyhalf to run in for the opening score. But a big mistake, as Burger Odendaal dropped the ball in his own 22, allowed Kyle Godwin to easily beat Nic de Jager on a one-on-one to even up the scores.

Christian Lealiifano put the Brumbies up with a penalty in the 18th minute. Then Johnny Kotze found space on the left hand side, before the recycled ball was sent wide to Roelof Smit on the opposite end for the flanker to jink inside and score a great try to put his side back in front again.

At 14-10 the Bulls were leading at the break, but given their dominance and time spent in the 22, they should have been further up.

The Brumbies hit straight away in the second half as Powell found a gap and broke to put Lachlan McCaffrey away for a try but the Bulls retook the lead with a Pollard penalty and a beautiful step by Warrick Gelant to send Kotze steaming down the sideline to score.

Pollard put the Bulls eight points up with another three pointer, but Faingaa forced his way over from close range to close the scoreline again to one point.

And then the red card came, and the Bulls had the advantage, but they looked jaded.

The Brumbies seized the moment, with fullback Tom Banks breaking three tackles just outside his 22-metre area before pinning his ears back to score a long range effort that must rank as one of the best of the season.

The Bulls had given away their moment, their advantage and the wounds were rubbed with salt when Andy Muirhead scored in the corner four minutes later.

The Brumbies will hail the away victory in a season of disappointment, but the disappointment this Bulls side will have after this performance outweighs their 50-point loss in Buenos Aires. The second half was possibly their poorest performance at home this year.

And for that their hopes of catching the conference leaders is in tatters.


Vodacom Bulls – tries: Handre Pollard, Roelof Smit, Johnny Kotze. Conversions: Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (3)

Brumbies – tries: Kyle Godwin, Lachlan McCaffrey, Folau Faingaa, Tom Banks, Andy Muirhead. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (5). Penalty: Lealiifano

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