The Bulls showed some encouraging signs on attack in the first half, with a number of offloads in the tackle as they looked to keep the ball alive in a new-found positive approach.
Bjorn Basson, Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel and captain Adriaan Strauss often looked for support on their shoulders, and it gave the Pretoria side good go-forward.
But they were heavily penalised by New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe, who was particularly severe at the breakdowns. He eventually issued the Bulls with a warning for too many infringements with 30 minutes to go, especially for not releasing the tackled player.
However, many of the calls were tight, and even Australian commentators Tim Horan and George Gregan noted that the Bulls were getting a raw deal at the rucks.
But after Francois Brummer put Nollis Marais’ team ahead with a fourth-minute penalty, the Brumbies quietly accumulated points with three shots at goal in a seven-minute period in the first quarter to take a 9-3 lead through flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano.
Strauss also questioned O’Keeffe at the scrums, as the Kiwi blew the Bulls pack off the park at the set-piece despite some early dominance. The referee felt that the Bulls were not stabilising the scrum and were pushing early, but that is an old Australian tactic, and O’Keeffe fell for it.
The Bulls’ all-Springbok front row of Trevor Nyakane, Strauss and Marcel van der Merwe had the upper hand in the scrums, but were not rewarded accordingly.
There wasn’t much accuracy from the normally slick Brumbies, though, as they battled to put their renowned phase-game together, while Leali’ifano and fullback Aidan Toua missed touch from penalties on three occasions between them.
The Bulls clawed their way back to within three points with a second Brummer penalty after halftime to reduce the deficit to 9-6, but Stephen Larkham’s team eventually found their range with two excellent tries within 12 minutes.
After a poor Bulls exit, the Brumbies were right on attack on the 22, and they executed a perfect set-piece move off the lineout as powerhouse centre Tevita Kuridrani ran a decoy line to create the space for right wing Nigel Ah Wong to slice through the middle and burst past Serfontein’s attempted tackle to dot down.
Even after Leali’ifano missed his penalty kick at goal, the Canberra side placed relentless pressure on the Bulls defence with a multi-phase attack, and after a few darts at the line, scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli’s quick tap penalty saw him wriggle over in the left-hand corner.
Bulls coach Marais introduced Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige and a host of other replacements in the last quarter, but it made no difference as the Brumbies held on for victory.
The result meant that the Bulls remain in second place, a point behind the Stormers in the Africa Conference 1 on 28, while the Brumbies took the lead in the Australian Conference on 25 points, two ahead of the Rebels. – African News Agency (ANA)
Brumbies - 23 (9)Tries: Nigel Ah Wong, Tomas Cubelli. Conversions: Christian Leali’ifano (2). Penalties: Leali’ifano (3)
Bulls - 6 (3) Penalties: Francois Brummer (2)
Original source: Referee blows Bulls off the park