The Rebels ended the Vodacom Bulls' Super Rugby play-off hopes with a 21-20 win in Melbourne on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Bulls will wonder what might have been had Burger Odendaal's perfectly good try been awarded in the 61st minute of the match, when they were trailing by that one point. The centre had been tackled just short of the line but his momentum took him over and he clearly grounded the ball over the line, yet Australian TMO Ian Smith said there was no evidence that it had been grounded.
It was another shocking call from a Super Rugby official this season and one that may have cost the visitors the match.
Needing five log points from their final tour fixture, the Bulls played more of an attacking, ball-in-hand game.
They signalled their intentions early on when they turned down a shot at goal and kicked for the corner. The ball went to Jacques du Plessis at the back of the lineout, with Victor Matfield breaking away and being tackled just short of the tryline. Dean Greyling then barged his way over and Jacques-Louis Potgieter slotted the conversion.
The Rebels hit straight back, though, when they opted to scrum from a kickable penalty. Another penalty resulted in another scrum, which the hosts again dominated. Scott Higginbotham gave the ball to Nic Stirzaker on the blindside, who passed back inside to his captain. He then found Sean McMahon on his inside and the flanker's try levelled the scores after 11 minutes.
Jack Debreczeni missed a 50m penalty after Du Plessis had been harshly penalised for being offside, but Potgieter made no mistake with a much easier attempt soon after.
The next time the Bulls were awarded a penalty, on halfway, Potgieter found touch 10m out from the Rebels tryline and Lappies Labuschagne went over from an excellent lineout driving maul to make it 17-7.
But the Rebels dominated the last 10 minutes of the half and were rewarded when Debreczeni received the ball from a 5m scrum, threw a dummy and dotted down for a converted try.
Potgieter kicked his second penalty early in the first half, although it was surprising not to see the Bulls kick for the corner, considering the success that tactic had already brought them.
The visitors were reduced to 14 men in the 54th minute when Greyling was yellow-carded for not rolling away at the breakdown, and the Rebels took advantage with Lopeti Timani crashing over. Harris slotted the conversion to give his side a 21-20 lead.
The Bulls should have hit back with a try through Odendaal, but the TMO ensured that wasn't the case. The midfielder thought he had scored a couple minutes later, in the right-hand corner, but he had put a foot in touch.
The Rebels survived that onslaught and were able to finish the game in Bulls territory.
Rebels – Tries: Sean McMahon, Jack Debreczeni, Lopeti Timani. Conversions: Mike Harris (3).
Bulls – Tries: Dean Greyling, Lappies Labuschagne. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2). Penalties: Potgieter (2).
Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Cam Crawford, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Jordy Reid, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Tom English.
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Bjorn Basson, 23 Jürgen Visser.
Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images