Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Never mind that the last-ditch breakdown penalty they conceded to lose the match was a massively controversial one which even staunch Australian television pundits like Rod Kafer and Phil Kearns felt should have gone the other way.
The fact remains that the Bulls, who had come from behind just about all of the time to draw level with the Brumbies at 20-20 with a minute left in their final Super Rugby overseas tour fixture, had a golden opportunity to gratefully bank the stalemate after the siren had sounded and with them in possession.
But instead of scrumhalf Jano Vermaak
snatching the ball out of the ruck and banging it safely into touch or passing it to Morne Steyn to duly complete the chore, they inexplicably and fatally opted to keep it in play and were duly pinged at the next breakdown just inside their own half for Christian Lealiifano to break the deadlock and hand the tourists an agonising 23-20 loss.VIDEO: Brumbies v Bulls, highlights
Why such last-ditch “enterprise” when the whole game-plan by the men from Pretoria had previously so heavily revolved around their favoured conservative, strategic kicking game?
It is a question many in the vicinity of Loftus, or Bulls-partial from elsewhere, will still be asking bitterly in the aftermath of the grim tussle between tired combatants - the Brumbies because of post-South Africa jetlag and the Bulls due to inevitable one-foot-on-the-plane syndrome in their fourth tour game.
That extra phase will haunt Pierre Spies
and company on the long plane trip home, as a draw would have been a reasonably apt outcome, and one which would have reflected the way they hung in so courageously after ominous half-time signs when they had trailed 14-3.
The Brumbies have now apparently won all of their last 10 games when ahead at the break, so the Bulls really blew a golden opportunity to instead end that sequence on nine.
Some consolation is that the tactical error only really cost the Bulls one log point, because they did still bank a losing bonus point for the second week on the trot.
But the slightly fortuitous outcome for the Brumbies also restored their winning ways following the reverse to the Stormers last week and put the Aussie outfit back at the helm of the overall standings for the time being.
The Bulls are under a bit of pressure now, as they return to South Africa with three defeats in succession from their Australasian venture, rather checking their promising, three-from-three start to the 2013 competition.
They have a bye weekend ahead in which to regroup, hopefully simultaneously restoring a few absent first-teamers to match fitness before the Cheetahs visit Loftus on April 13.Frans Ludeke
’s charges certainly remain in the running for the playoffs phase, as things stand, as they should yet win more often than they lose in a remaining stretch of 10 games on domestic soil, and six of them at Loftus.
But getting the important SA conference triumph is beginning to look less likely: pre-season favourites among many experts, the Sharks and Stormers, seem to hold the aces in that department, even with their own overseas legs still to contemplate (both teams are traditionally pretty good tourists).
The Sharks are six points clear of the second-placed Bulls at the top of the local conference with a game in hand, whilst the Stormers -- in third -- had two matches in hand over the Bulls ahead of their Saturday night Newlands clash with the Crusaders and were a solitary point adrift.
The Cheetahs, too, had an opportunity to leapfrog the Bulls if they could see off the Rebels in Bloemfontein in another remaining assignment of the current round.
Although the Bulls went toe to toe with the Brumbies in most areas of play in what amounted to a dour arm-wrestle for long periods, they did play a worrying, all too obvious second fiddle at the scrums, where they were frequently penalised and struggled even to secure the ball off their own feed.
The pressure they came under was evidenced by the yellow-carding of loosehead prop Morne Mellett in the 64th minute as another set-piece went quickly to ground with the visitors under the cosh.
Still, forwards like Juandre Kruger
, Dewald Potgieter
and Deon Stegmann could not be faulted for general work-rate and commitment on the day, and rookie inside centre Jan Serfontein
was a suitably assured presence physically, even if this was not the sort of game where his clever stepping and swerving was going to be a regular factor. Remaining Bulls matches after next weekend’s bye:
April 13: Cheetahs (h); April 20: Kings (a); April 27: Waratahs (h); May 4: Hurricanes (h); May 18: Highlanders (h); May 25: Sharks (a); June 1: Cheetahs (a); June 29: Kings (h); July 6: Sharks (h); July 13: Stormers (a).
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