The Vodacom Bulls' play-off hopes all but ended as they went down 22-16 to the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
While still mathematically in with a chance of reaching the play-offs, their involvement in this year's tournament was effectively ended with their third consecutive loss on tour. The problems that have plagued them all season were once again apparent in Canberra.
The Bulls failed to win the battle up front and with it went their chances of emerging victorious from the match. Without the front-foot ball provided by a dominant forward pack, the Bulls backs were ponderous and failed to pose a threat to the Brumbies' well-organised defence.
The visitors started well enough, with two Handré Pollard penalties handing them a 6-0 lead after Christian Leali'ifano had missed two attempts of his own early on. However, the Bulls were guilty once again of failing to protect their ball at the breakdown, allowing the Brumbies a way back into the match.
Leali'ifano found his radar to put the Brumbies on the board, before replacement lock Jordan Smiler went over in the corner after some patient buildup from the hosts. Leali'ifano failed with his conversion attempt, but the Brumbies went into the break with a slim 8-6 lead.
Another Pollard penalty restored the Bulls' lead at the start of the second half, but they remained under pressure at the breakdowns. The Brumbies managed the game well during this period and hit the front when Henry Speight punctured the Bulls' midfield defence before racing in untouched for the Brumbies' second try.
Tempers frayed in the second half as the tension manifested itself in some overly physical play from both sides. The writing looked on the wall for the Bulls when Speight crossed for his second try to open up a 13-point lead with 20 minutes remaining.
To their credit, though, the Bulls battled their way back into the match as the Brumbies' discipline started to fail them. However, questions must be asked of the Bulls' tactics. They continued to kick the ball to the opposition despite needing tries to keep their play-off hopes alive.
They would get their try and it would come from a familiar source. Lappies Labuschagne went over from the back of a driving maul and for a moment it looked like the Bulls might snatch a momentous victory.
The Brumbies, though, regained their composure and managed to keep the Bulls relatively quiet during the final 10 minutes to secure a vital victory in the race for the Australian conference and all but end the Bulls' hopes for another year.
Brumbies – Tries: Jordan Smiler, Henry Speight (2). Conversions: Christian Leali'ifano (2). Penalty: Christian Leali'ifano.
Bulls –Try: Lappies Labuschagne. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (3).
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nigel Ah Wong, 23 James Dargaville.
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Travis Ismaiel, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images