Gutsy Bulls give themselves great KOs shot!
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - You get good draws and bad draws in sport ... the Bulls can fly home believing they’ve had two of the former variety in their Super Rugby 2019 fixtures in New Zealand.
While successive stalemates hardly represent the kind of thing tipsters would root for in their match predictions, the men from Pretoria have done themselves more health than harm by adding a 24-24 outcome against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday to last week’s 22-22 result against the Blues in Auckland.
In short, they are well at the races when it comes to the key matter of clinching a ticket for the eight-team knockout phase.
It meant also that they ended their inconveniently late-scheduled, main overseas tour with a win (Rebels), the two draws and just one setback against the Brumbies.
They simultaneously, in the latest game, served as great examples to other South African teams, who have previously so often wilted under the strain of one-foot-on-the-plane syndrome in game four of a gruelling Australasian slog.
When the Highlanders, in a pleasingly lively and constructive encounter, opened up a 12-0 lead at one stage and then again 24-14 at the much more advanced juncture of the 53rd minute, observers could hardly have been blamed for believing the Bulls’ passion was on the brink of being doused.
But it wasn't: they stuck to their task with aplomb - in a truly 15-man effort - to turn what might well have been a zero-log-points outcome instead into a precious two.
They duly lifted to 36 points after 15 of their 16 ordinary-season fixtures, which also resulted in a crank up from seventh overall, entering the latest round, to fifth for the time being, as well as advancing from third to second - now only behind the Jaguares - in the SA conference.
The Lions (35) could swiftly overhaul them again on Saturday, but it depends on whether they can prosper against the formidable Hurricanes at Emirates Airline Park. Other compatriots the Sharks (33) could do a leapfrog act as well, but it also requires a tough ask - beating the Jaguares in the closing game of this round in Buenos Aires.
Last year, 36 points was (just) enough - with the competition played on the same basis as this year's - for the Sharks to make the cut, so the Bulls have already got to that tally.
It might require a tad more than that to be sure of qualification in 2019, but the pleasing thing from a Bulls perspective is that they wrap up their pre-knockout campaign back at Loftus next Saturday, when they entertain the Lions in a potential derby humdinger.
Although he was certainly not alone in fronting up admirably to the Highlanders - now almost certainly goners - the decision to summon Springbok flyhalf and their acting captain Handre Pollard back to New Zealand for one match by the Bulls also proved a productive one.
It has been criticised as having been counter-productive to the greater, soon relevant international cause, but the Bulls desperately need as many stalwarts - several abandoning the Loftus cause next year - as possible to drive a late charge for 2019 honours.
That mission remains on track.
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