Vodacom Bulls 10
DAVID BARNES @ The DAM Health Stadium
IT wasn’t particularly pretty and there was a decent dollop of good fortunate involved at the end, but Edinburgh just about deserved the four points they took from this gritty tussle at the rain-lashed DAM Health Stadium.
Having twice let winning positions slip through their fingers during the last fortnight – losing to an injury-time drop-goal a fortnight ago away to Benetton and then having to make do with a frustrating draw at home to the Stormers last weekend – Edinburgh head coach Mike Blair declared himself delighted with the way his side held on this time to get a valuable home win.
“We’ve talked a fair bit about how we manage the end of the game and still didn’t get it quite right,” he said. “But what I said to the guys was that I hate watching games in the rain, I think they are a poor spectacle, but I loved that game.”
“I loved the heart that we showed and the will to put the effort in for the jersey. We ended up with players out of position all over the place, with two forwards defending in the backs, and found a way to get a result so I am delighted with that.”
When Bulls winger Madosh Tambwe swept past Damien Hoyland and rode a Darcy Graham tackle on his way to touching down in the corner with only five minutes to go, there appeared to be a distinct possibility that another hard luck story was on the cards. The conversion to square it would have been from the touchline, but if there is one player in world rugby you would back to come up with the goods in that situation then it is Morne Steyn, the Bulls’ veteran stand-off who nervelessly kicked the winning points when the Springboks secured a series success over the Lions during the summer. Fortunately for Edinburgh, referee Ben Whitehouse opted to review the try on the big screen and reached the conclusion that there had been a double movement.
So, Edinburgh held on for a dramatic win, which leaves them sixth in the United Rugby Championship table, behind fifth placed Ospreys on points difference, with a trip to Italy to take on winless Zebre on the agenda next week before the league pauses for the Autumn international window.
“I think it was a fairly clear and obvious double movement,” was Blair’s take on the disallowed try, delivered with a knowing twinkle in his eye.
“You need to get these decisions sometimes,” he added. “Against Benetton two weeks ago we didn’t get any decisions in the last five minutes, and against the Stormers they got the benefit of the doubt three or four times, so these things happen. Let’s reflect on the big strides we’ve made to see out that game.”
The first five minutes were scrappy, then Edinburgh suddenly clicked into gear with a half dozen slick phases which took play from the left to the right touchline and then back again, before Hoyland’s toe-poke into the in-goal area set-up the try for full-back Henry Immelman.
The game then slumped back into its pre-try routine, with both sides struggling to engineer the fast ball needed to get the game-breakers like Edinburgh’s Graham and his opposite number Kurt-Lee Arendse into a position where they could make an impact.
Edinburgh’s line-out was creaking as well, which meant they struggled to build any meaningful pressure, and great work by Bismarck du Plessis over the tackled Stuart McInally earned a penalty which Bulls stand-off Chris Smith sent home to narrow the gap to two points.
The game did burst into life again just before the half hour mark when home skipper Grant Gilchrist charged-down Embrose Papier and the Bulls had to scramble to rescue the situation behind their own line, but they managed to hold on and eventually found an exit route with a Smith cross-field kick to Arendse on the left touchline, who scuttled to safety past a despairing Graham tackle.
Bulls then shot themselves in the foot with three fairly soft penalties – for an offside, a side-entry by loose-head prop Lizo Gooboka and a petulant shove by du Plessis on Pierre Schoeman – which Jaco van der Walt took full advantage of to make it 14-3 at the break.
There was, however, a setback for the hosts when van der Walt picked up a serious looking shoulder injury whilst making a tackle during the last play of the first half. “He is struggling a bit so we will have to see the extent of it, but it didn’t look good on first viewing,” said Blair.
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James Lang, who played stand-off earlier in his career, moved into the No10 slot and Edinburgh initially adapted fairly seamlessly, with a searching kick by Mark Bennett then a scything break by James Johnstone putting Bulls under pressure early in the second half.
But they missed an opportunity to stretch their lead when Lang hit the post following a scrum penalty awarded to Edinburgh just after WP Nel had come on at tight-head prop
Then, with 10 minutes to go, Bulls found a way into Edinburgh territory, and after a series of close-range drives, visiting captain Marcell Coetzee muscled in for the try.
Steyn’s conversion made it 17-14, which was just a bit too close for comfort for the hosts, but they showed good composure to get back in the strike zone then earn a ruck penalty. With Lang now off injured, Bennett stepped forward to take the shot at goal, and he made no mistake.
But there was still eight minutes to go and time for that late drama via Tambwe’s interjection, but Edinburgh got away with it.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang, D Hoyland; J van der Walt ((B Vellacott 71), C Shiel; P Schoeman (B Venter 77), S McInally (D Cherry 61), L De Bruin (W Nel 50), M Sykes (P Phillips 50), G Gilchrist, M Bradbury, L Crosbie (C Boyle 73), V Mata (M Kunavula 66).
Bulls: D Kriel (L Mapoe. 66); M Tambwe, C Hendricks, H Vorster. K Arendse; C Smith (M Steyn 57), M Papier (W Steenkamp 52); L Gooboka (S Matanzima 58), B Du Plessis (S Erasmus 66), M Smith (R Hunt 40), J Swanepoel (W Steenkamp 52), R Nortje, M Coetzee, A Botha, M Uys (E Louw 40).
Referee: B Whitehouse
Edinburgh: Tries: Immelman; Pen; Van der Walt 3, Bennett.
Bulls: Try: Coetzee; Con: Steyn; Pen: Smith.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 5-3; 8-3; 11-3; 14-3 (h-t) 14-8; 14-10; 17-10