The Vodacom Blue Bulls didn’t make it look pretty, but finally returned to winning ways as they survived a late comeback to beat the Toyota Cheetahs 34-30 at Loftus Versfeld.
In a game of desperation which neither side could afford to lose, the Bulls built up a good first half lead, but were desperate to survive at the death as their opposition came hard back at them and almost snatched a victory, writes Brenden Nel of SuperSport.com.
The win – the first in four games for the Bulls means they move off the bottom of the log, and at least for now get some breathing space. But while they are only two points behind GWK Griquas and a semifinal spot, they are also only one point ahead of the Cheetahs with just three games left in this year’s competition.
While the game was entertaining, it was also a reminder of how desperation can feed a team and how both sides are missing a dollop of self-confidence in their campaigns thus far.
The scoring may have been dominated by the two kickers, with Nico Scheepers’ 20 points shading Louis Fouche’s 19, but this was hardly a game when the boot was overly dominant.
Both sides tried to play an expansive game, but things changed for the Cheetahs when their bench came on, and in particular Sias Ebersohn replaced an out-of-sorts Tewis de Bruyn at flyhalf. Whatever the reasons for De Bruyn’s move to flyhalf, it certainly wasn’t an experiment that worked.
Still, the Bulls were dominant in the opening 45 minutes, and were good value on the scoreboard, with a solitary first half try – thanks to a break by Arno Botha and a speedy finish by Sampie Mastriet, gave the home side a decent lead.
Of course, Fouche’s big boot helped, and thanks to some massive kicks, the Bulls led deservedly 17-9 thanks to the pressure they exerted on the Cheetahs, particularly up front.
After halftime the Bulls extended their lead when Jano Vermaak broke from the base of the ruck, and Franco Mostert managed to burrow his way over for the try. Both Vermaak and Jacques Potgieter may have been bit players at the Boks of late, but they certainly made a massive impact in the young Bulls team.
The most surprising of which was the exceptional form of young Morne Mellett, who had missed a large chunk of the season with injury, but grabbed his chance to turn in a performance that was filled with passion and determination.
After the Mostert try, the Cheetahs changed tack and as they have done so many times before, started their comeback through some enterprising play.
Once Ebersohn was on, the backline had much more flow, and it wasn’t long before the flyhalf popped a pass to Raymond Rhule to score their opening try.
With the Bulls getting no ball in the middle part of the second half, they were soon on the back foot, and it wasn’t long before Scheepers went over in the corner to bring them even closer. The Cheetahs were almost done in as the assistant refs first ruled the conversion not over, and then the TMO, Shaun Veldsman, overruled them for the two points.
The Bulls looked in danger of losing the game they were so far ahead, and on the back of some classy captaincy by Dewald Potgieter, managed to find their footing. Francois Venter was impressive out wide, and made the hard yards twice in a series of phases that eventually saw replacement CJ Stander put an outstretched arm over the line to score.
A late try to Marcel van der Merwe brought the Cheetahs back within striking range, but they had run out of time to catch the Bulls and take the win.
It was a relieved Bulls side that heard the final whistle, but with the Sharks, Western Province and Lions left, they will have to take the hard way to the semis.
But on Saturday night they were at least off the bottom of the log, and that alone would have brought some relief.
Vodacom Blue Bulls - Tries: Sampie Mastriet, Franco Mostert, CJ Stander. Conversions: Louis Fouche (2). Penalties: Fouche (5).
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Marcel vd Merwe, Raymond Rhule, Nico Scheepers. Conversions: Scheepers (3). Penalties: Scheepers (3)