The Bulls beat the Cheetahs 26-21 at Loftus to keep their play-off hopes alive, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Cheetahs led 18-9 at the break, thanks to two tries, but the Bulls had been unlucky not to score two themselves and went on to dominate the second half. The four log points keep the play-off hopes of Victor Matfield's men alive.
Both sides showed a willingness to run the ball and the crowd was entertained throughout this encounter.
Handré Pollard, making his first Super Rugby start, settled any nerves he may have had with a 55m penalty, but that was cancelled out shortly after by Elgar Watts. Both sides had early try-scoring opportunities, with Willie le Roux's hack ahead going into touch just before the line, while the Bulls had a try ruled out because of a marginal forward pass.
Another promising Bulls attack ended disastrously as Pollard's flat skip-pass was intercepted inside the Cheetahs 22 by Johann Sadie, who raced away to score at the other end. Watts kicked the conversion and added a penalty after Pollard had failed to retreat 10m when the Cheetahs took a quick penalty tap.
The flyhalf was sent to the sin bin for that indiscretion, but it was the Bulls who scored the only points while he was off, via a Jürgen Visser penalty. However, the Cheetahs did come close to making their one-man advantage count when Rayno Benjamin ran on to a pass from Le Roux and beat three defenders before losing the ball in the tackle just short of the tryline.
The hosts were denied another try, five minutes before the break, when Marcel van der Merwe crashed over, only for the TMO to rule that Victor Matfield had obstructed a defender in the build-up. It was another 50-50 call that went against them.
Pollard's second penalty narrowed the gap to four, but the Cheetahs struck a big blow in the last play of the half when Raymond Rhule stepped two defenders to score an unconverted try that made it 18-9.
But the Bulls hit back early in the second half, when a Pollard chip and regather got them close. The Cheetahs conceded a cynical penalty but the hosts turned down the three points and were rewarded when Paul Willemse went over for a try that Pollard converted.
That prompted the introduction of Bok duo Coenie Oosthuizen and Johan Goosen for the visitors. Goosen kicked a penalty, before Callie Visagie got over for the Bulls' second try that gave them a 23-21 lead after 55 minutes.
Goosen's second penalty attempt went wide and Jacques Louis-Potgieter, on for Pollard, then kicked his first to give the Bulls a five-point lead. And that's the way it stayed.
Bulls – Try: Paul Willemse, Callie Visagie. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (2), Jürgen Visser, Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
Cheetahs – Tries: Johann Sadie, Raymond Rhule. Conversion: Elgar Watts. Penalties: Watts (2), Johan Goosen.
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Wimpie van der Walt, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Ligtoring Landman, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Willie le Roux thrived in such an open game, posing a threat every time he touched the ball. He gained 66m with six carries, second only to Johann Sadie's 109m, which included an intercept try.
VOTE FOR YOUR SA PLAYER OF THE WEEK AND WIN A LEATHERMAN!
Leatherman SA is giving away great Leatherman prizes and all you have to do is vote for your Leatherman Player of the Week from our nominees to enter! Check out our weekly player nominees each Monday, 'like' your favourite player to vote and you could be the one to win! If your player lets you down don’t worry, your Leatherman never will!
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images