Bad decisions cost Bulls

2013-07-29 00:00

THE Bulls’ limitations at the set-piece, their creaking scrum in the first half and their wobbly line-out in the second, cost them a place in this year’s Super Rugby final.

The Bulls went walkabout in the closing 10 minutes at Loftus Versfeld, and suffered one of their most agonising defeats, while the Brumbies reckon their 26-23 semi-final win was the greatest in their history.

The Brumbies now trek to Hamilton for Saturday’s final against the Chiefs. The defending champions upset the formbook, the bookies and the pundits in beating the Crusaders 20-19 in the first semi-final on Saturday.

The Bulls, after a shoddy first half when their scrum was under pressure from the Brumbies — and referee Craig Joubert — improved markedly after the break and they led (20-19) in the final quarter.

But captain Dewald Potgieter then turned down three chances to kick easy penalties, opting instead for attacking line-outs. Potgieter reasoned that a try (and conversion) would take the Bulls into an eight-point lead and out of reach of the dangerous Brumbies while he also wanted to keep the Australians pinned back in their own quarter.

But, with replacement hooker Callie Visagie on for Chiliboy Ralepelle, the vulnerable Bulls line-out lost possession on all three occasions. And, to add to the confusion, Morné Steyn, surprisingly, even tried to kick a drop kick. Finally, with 50 000 baying captains in the Loftus stands, Potgieter underwent a change of heart, allowing Steyn to boot a fourth penalty to take the Bulls ahead 23-19 with four minutes remaining.

Potgieter’s worst fears were immediately realised as the Brumbies, finally back in the Bulls’ half from the kick-off, easily carved up the defence and flyhalf Matt Toomua sent centre Tevita Kuridrani over. There was still a tense wait before the winning try was awarded by South African television match official Shaun Veldsman after Joubert questioned a possible forward pass. It was as close as that.

Potgieter and the Loftus crowd will be haunted by those closing 10 minutes. Had the Bulls had a Victor Matfield standing in the line-out instead of sitting with the coaches, Potgieter’s decision would have had some merit and the Bulls might well have fashioned a controlled, match-winning drive to settle the contest.

But the Bulls’ line-out has lacked precision in recent weeks and, in the tightest of contests, Potgieter should have taken the points on offer.

The Brumbies deserved their win if only because they were more dangerous on attack while the Bulls’ all-Springbok back division was largely ignored after they had fashioned an excellent early try for centre JJ Englebrecht.

Coach Jake White and assistant coach Laurie Fisher later hailed the win “as the greatest the Brumbies have ever had”.

“I spoke to [flank and man of the match] George Smith after the game and he said he’s never experienced anything like that in his life,” said White.

White was also bewildered by the Bulls’ decision not to kick at goal in the final minutes. “The players felt that the Bulls had left the door open to them. They have the best goal-kicker in the whole competition [Steyn] and a new hooker on who has to throw the ball into the line-out. And they decide to go for touch.”

Potgieter defended his decision.

“We wanted to stay in their territory and it was working for us right up until the end when we took that penalty and then went back to our own half. We just couldn’t exit from there.”

The challenge facing the Brumbies now is not as demanding as the one that faced the Sharks last year (they went to Brisbane, then back to Cape Town before playing in Hamilton) but White said the travelling would hurt his team.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle that’s never been done before. But there’s a lot of things that haven’t been done by teams before and the Brumbies have done them week-in, week-out.”

The Chiefs, at home again for the final, will be favourites to land back-to-back titles after a second-half surge of 17 points took them to a one-point win over the Crusaders.

The Chiefs were outplayed by the marauding Crusaders in the first half (3-9) but they were inspirational in the second when they took the lead and then denied the seven–time champions in the final minutes.

“It comes down to those critical decision-making errors on the field, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said. “The difference is that the Chiefs took their two try-scoring opportunities and we didn’t nail ours.”

That, in essence, was also the story in Pretoria.

SEMI-FINAL SCORES AND SCORERS

Bulls 23 – Try: JJ Engelbrecht. Penalty goals: Morné Steyn (6). Brumbies 26 – Tries: Jesse Mogg, Tevita Kuridrani. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (2). Penalty goals: Lealiifano (4).

Chiefs 20 – Tries: Lelia Masaga, Aaron Cruden. Conversions: Cruden (2). Penalty goals: Cruden (2). Crusaders 19 – Try: Israel Dagg. Conversion: Dan Carter. Penalty goals: Carter (4).

Super Rugby final on Saturday: Chiefs vs Brumbies (9.35 am, SA time).

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