A late charge from South African leaders the Blue Bulls has denied the HSBC Waratahs their first win in Pretoria in 11 years.
After outscoring the Bulls by three tries to two, the HSBC Waratahs led 19-15 going into the final 15 minutes but a try from Bulls’ flyhalf Morne Steyne, added to his 22 points with the boot, stole the win for the home side and denied the visitors a well-deserved losing bonus point.
With a try from Israel Folau their only points in the first half, NSW trailed by 12-5 at the break but hit back strongly in the second period.
Replacement prop Paddy Ryan crossed almost immediately before flyhalf Bernard Foley finished off an excellent team try to put his side ahead by 19-15 on 62 minutes. But tries to Bulls’ stand-in scrumhalf Francois Hougaard and Steyne in the final 15 minutes closed out the game and prevented the HSBC Waratahs for recording their first victory at Loftus Versfeld since 2002.
Said disappointed NSW captain Dave Dennis after the game, “We came here to win obviously. In the second half we were right back in it and took the lead only to lose in the end.
“Against the Bulls you’ve got to be physical, defence was a key part of the game and poor discipline hurt us in the first half. It was hard to come back.”
The Bulls got out to an early lead, with flyhalf Morne Steyne slotting three penalty goals inside the first quarter to leave the visitors trailing by 9-0 after 20 minutes.
One unsuccessful shot at the posts apiece from Brendan McKibbin and Steyne meant the score remained unchanged until the 35th minute, when a break from Israel Folau off a Bernard Foley pass saw the NSW fullback evade Bulls winger Akona Ndungane to cross in the corner for his team’s first points.
A fourth Steyne effort on the stroke of half-time gave the home side a 12-5 advantage going into the break, with the score a reflection of their dominance of the first half territory and possession (60:40) and the HSBC Waratahs’ strong defensive effort in keeping the Bulls from crossing the line.
HSBC Waratahs’ Head Coach Michael Cheika’s decision to bring on replacement Paddy Ryan at half-time had an immediate impact, with the prop running in the team’s second try under the posts, capitalising on a break and offload from impressive flanker Michael Hooper. McKibbin’s conversion levelled the scores after 44 minutes.
Steyne’s fifth three-pointer edged the Bulls back into the lead after 58 minutes but a brilliant team try, started by Folau from turnover ball, finished by Foley and converted by McKibbin sent the visitors back into the lead, with a four point advantage going into the final quarter.
But again the Bulls hit back with a try of their own through replacement halfback Francois Hougaard, who dived over under the posts from the back of a ruck. Steyne’s conversion took the score to 22-19 in the home side’s favour, before a penalty a minute later extended the gap to six points with 10 minutes remaining.
With NSW replacements Pat McCutcheon, Ben Volavola and Matt Lucas joining fellow substitutes Peter Betham, John Ulugia and Mitchell Chapman on the field, the visitors threw everything into their attack, threatening the Bulls’ line a number of times in the closing stages.
Forced back into their own half with just minutes to play, a decision from the Bulls to keep the ball in play through a lineout rather than take a shot at the posts offered a glimpse of hope. But that quickly evaporated when Bulls’ man of the match Steyne crossed from close range for a converted try of his own, sealing a 32-19 win for the South African side and denying NSW a bonus point.
Cheika’s men now travel to Port Elizabeth to face this year’s Super Rugby newcomers the Southern Kings, with Dennis describing the game as another big challenge for the team. “We’re going to have to work hard, they’re a quality team and they’ve knocked off a few teams already this year,” he said.
“They’ll be a big crowd down there in Port Elizabeth and it’ll be a new experience for the boys. We’ll have to train hard this week and try and get a result.”