The Hurricanes got away with their fingers and thumbs being in all the wrong places in the rucks, while the Bulls paid dearly for one hand allegedly sliding ever-so-slightly out of play as they went down 17-13 to the Wellington-based side in their Vodacom SuperRugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
Replacement lock Grant Hattingh had slid over in the left-hand corner in the 77th minute for a ‘try’ that would have put the Bulls 18-17 up with the conversion to come, but Australian referee Andrew Lees, who gave a sub-standard performance throughout, referred the decision upstairs.
South African TMO Johan Greeff, famous for messing up high-profile television replays in the past, ruled that Hattingh’s hand had brushed the touchline before dotting down the ball, although the evidence certainly didn’t confirm this.
But even though the Bulls did not get the rub of the green when it came to decisions by the officials, this was a game they did not deserve to win. Everyone was really expecting them to up their game after last weekend’s shock defeat at the hands of the Stormers, but if anything they were worse against a disappointing Hurricanes team.
The Bulls had enough possession and territory to put the Hurricanes away, but they invariably messed up on attack through poor handling, a lack of protection for the ball at the ruck, or just plain bad decision-making.
The signs were not good for the Bulls from the outset as they spent the opening minutes in the Hurricanes half but had nothing to show for it as they kept turning over possession.
The 11 774 spectators started to get restless as the Hurricanes then picked up two penalties (6-0) by flyhalf Beauden Barrett when they visited Bulls territory, but it was Handre Pollard, the home side’s most potent attacking threat, who snatched a 10-6 lead with nine minutes left in the first half.
The flyhalf first of all slotted a brilliant penalty from the halfway line and then knifed through for a try, which he converted, after the Bulls looked set to waste the strong counter-attacking runs made by fullback Jesse Kriel and flank Lappies Labuschagne.
Beauden Barrett did pull a penalty back (9-10) just before the break as the Bulls scrum disintegrated on Morne Mellet’s loosehead side twice in succession.
The Bulls’ scrum did get better in the final quarter when Dean Greyling and Callie Visagie came on, but the lack of set-piece momentum, a couple of crucial lineouts also going astray, certainly hurt the home side.
Barrett regained the lead (12-10) for the Hurricanes with a 47th-minute penalty before it was Pollard’s turn three minutes later to slot a penalty and put the Bulls 13-12 up.
The decisive moment as far as the visitors were concerned came in the 67th minute as the Bulls messed up their own lineout throw deep in their own half and a period of sustained pressure saw the Hurricanes awarded a penalty.
Wing Julian Savea had only popped up sporadically up till then, but he took a quick tap penalty and Victor Matfield, Piet van Zyl and Bjorn Basson were not up to the task of stopping the powerful All Black from scoring the match-winning try.
The Bulls swarmed back on to attack but their failure to protect their ball at the breakdown hindered their efforts to break through. Eventually there was enough space on the outside for Hattingh to dive over, but TMO Greeff ruled he had slid his hand on to the touchline at the same time or before he dotted down the ball.
At a ruck shortly thereafter, inside the Hurricanes half, replacement scrumhalf Rudi Paige was blatantly pulled into the melee but referee Lees gave the penalty to the Hurricanes instead.
It’s the sort of bad luck the Bulls are having at the moment, but the bottom line is that they are not playing well enough to win.