The Blue Bulls kept their semi-final hopes alive with a dramatic 31-22 victory over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
It was scrappy at times, enthralling at others, but in the end the Bulls did just enough to remain in the running for a play-off spot. Things looked to be slipping away when Willie du Plessis slotted a 73rd minute drop goal, but a Jacques-Louis Potgieter penalty and a Sampie Mastriet try after the hooter was enough to see them through.
The final move of the match was reflective of a contest that ebbed and flowed throughout. The Cheetahs may have won it, but ended up with nothing to show for their efforts. Du Plessis's drop attempt was charged down by the tireless Grant Hattingh and Mastriet scored his second try, which may prove pivotal in the greater scheme of things.
It was no less than the Bulls deserved after a dominant forward display. They demolished the Cheetahs at scrum time, with Coenie Oosthuizen struggling on his return to action, while their lineout was much improved from the one that malfunctioned against the Sharks last weekend.
It was the Bulls who led 11-9 at the break, with Mastriet's first try the difference between the sides. It was a well-worked effort that came after Sarel Pretorius had seen yellow for a cynical infringement as the Bulls maul made alarming progress.
Potgieter, who had earlier seen yellow for the Bulls, extended their lead just after half-time. Du Plessis added his fourth penalty shortly thereafter, before Pretorius snuck over as the Cheetahs hit the front.
Paul Willemse received a yellow card in the buildup as referee Marius van der Westhuizen continued to be extremely liberal with the cards. The Bulls showed some resolve and hit the lead when Willemse's locking partner crashed over from short range, before the late drama helped seal a memorable win.
The victory lifts the Bulls to within one point of both the Cheetahs and Pumas, who they face in Nelspruit next weekend.
Free State Cheetahs – Try: Sarel Pretorius. Conversion: Willie du Plessis. Penalties: Du Plessis (4). Drop goal: Willie du Plessis.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Sampie Mastriet (2), Grant Hattingh. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2). Penalties: Potgieter (4).
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Henco Venter, 3 George Marich, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Werner Lourens, 19 Neil Claassen, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 JP du Plessis.
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellet, 18 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19 Wiaan Liebenberg, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Jesse Kriel.
Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix