Blue Bulls hold off Cheetahs
Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Pretoria - Earlier in the week new Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar told some journalists the tale of his anguish as Free State coach when Francois Brummer stole two Vodacom Cup finals away from him with drop goals in the final minutes.
So it was a bit of poetic justice that Brummer played a starring role and kicked a crucial penalty with 10 minutes to go to give Pienaar his first victory at the Blue Bulls, beating Free State 33-30 in a humdinger at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
This was a nail-biter, and went right to the end, one which the Cheetahs almost snatched away with four minutes to go, when captain Andries Strauss went over in the corner and it looked as if they had stolen the game. But fortuitously for the Bulls it seemed replacement wing had stepped out 40 metres earlier, something which replays confirmed and only touch judge Christie du Preez saw.
It gave the Bulls a victory they had to fight tooth and nail for, one which few would have given them at half time and one that they will savour for a long time to come. Missing more than 20 players – including 16 with the Springboks – this was never going to be an easy task for the home side, and their loss last week at the Sharks in Durban hardly did anything for the confidence.
But against the odds – 17-3 down at one stage and looking out on their feet – the Bulls clawed their way back. Tenacity it seems is in ample supply here at Loftus Versfeld, and when the final whistle blew, the young Bulls players embraced as if they had won a final.
The Cheetahs will be wondering where it all went wrong, but they let their guard down at a crucial time in the second half, as momentum moved the way of the home side.
The Cheetahs were the first to draw blood after a number of phases saw then draw enough defenders in for Hennie Daniller to go over untouched with a two man overlap still on his outside.
Sias Ebersohn’s penalty took them 10 points up, and despite a penalty by Francois Brummer, the Cheetahs moved further ahead when prop Marcel van der Merwe went over from close range.
At 17-3 down on their home ground things didn’t look good for the Bulls, and even though Brummer managed to pull another six points back through penalties on both sides of halftime, there certainly were many in the 13 000 crowd who would have not given the home side a chance.
But fate has a strange way of turning games, and momentum started going the Bulls way. They settled, seemed to be over their nerves and finally a few of their more risky passes started sticking. The game opened up and as it did, the Bulls came storming back into it.
Sensing an opportunity with the ball in open play, the Bulls moved it left. Gary Botha just managed an overhead pass to put Stefan Watermeyer into space, and the midfielder helped the ball on to speedster Gerhard van den Heever, who sprinted in at the corner.
The Bulls were suddenly back in it, a point down but were given a rude reminder of how hard the fight would be when Francois Uys stormed down Brummer’s kick from the restart, taking the gap to 8 points again.
But these Bulls weren’t to be downed, and on attack again, this time it was Juandre Kruger who slipped a neat pass to Watermeyer in the gap. The midfielder fed flanker Derick Kuun on the wing, and he ran in for the sprint of his life to score.
Sias Ebersohn added a penalty to extend the lead to four, but a perfectly timed close pass by Dustin Jinka to a flying Akona Ndungane finally put the Bulls in the lead. It had taken an hour, but the Bulls would not let this one go.
Even when Ebersohn leveled the scores a minute later with another penalty, it took pressure and the gamebreaker came. And when it did, Brummer was up to the task to slot 18 points for the night.
The Bulls held out for the last 10, but the Cheetahs came within chalkdust of taking the game, prompting the celebrations at the end.
Pienaar got his victory against his former employers, and Loftus celebrated. But in the sobering afterglow it won’t be forgotten that this young Bulls team still has a mountain to climb.
But to Pienaar and co, it will be so much easier to climb with a win under the belt.
Tries: Gerhard van den Heever, Derick Kuhn, Akona Ndungane
Conversions: Francois Brummer (3)
Penalties: Brummer (4).
Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Hennie Daniller, Marcel van der Merwe, Francois Uys
Conversions: Sias Ebersohn (3)
Penalties: Ebersohn (3)