Morne Steyn kicked 26 points as the Bulls beat ACT Brumbies 36-34 in the Super 15 on Saturday, despite being outscored five tries to two.
Steyn landed eight from 10 place kicks and a dropped goal at Loftus Versfeld, as the Bulls only just held on under a late surge from former Springboks coach Jake White’s new team.
ACT scored two early tries in three minutes through winger Henry Speight and fullback Jesse Mogg to raise hopes of a winning return to South Africa for White.
However, Steyn’s boot was the difference as the Bulls opened a 33-13 lead after 60 minutes. Wing Bjorn Basson and flanker C.J. Stander went over for the home team.
ACT launched a stirring late charge that earned them two losing bonus points, when center Andrew Smith and replacements Ian Prior and Anthony Hegarty touched down for 21 points for the Brumbies in the final 12 minutes.
“The reality is at one stage at 33-13, I thought maybe we had let it slip,” White said. “The one thing I can’t fault is that they never gave up. When we did get ball in their half we did execute very well. I don’t think many teams score five tries at Loftus.”
The visitors from Australia also wasted another try when Speight dropped the ball over the tryline in the 74th, while Stander’s disputed score for the Bulls should have been called back for a knock-on.
It was not and the flanker broke away to punish the Brumbies, who had all stopped playing expecting the whistle of referee Marius Jonkers.
In the end, the Bulls’ run of 17 unanswered points in the middle part of the game was enough for a sixth win in eight games. ACT has a 4-4 record.
“It was pretty close at the end,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said. “We played well and suddenly we missed some tackles. It’s obviously not a good defensive effort from us ... but we did enough to win tonight and that’s the important thing. At this stage the result is vital.”
ACT stays third in the overall standings, a place above the Bulls, but has less points than the three teams below it. It has to be third as the highest-placed Australian team.
The Brumbies had responded to two early Steyn penalties with quick-fire tries from Speight and Mogg, who beat the Bulls defense after two glorious backline moves.
Slick passing gave Speight enough space down the right wing to score in the 10th minute. Flyhalf Christian Lealiifano looped around and sped into a huge gap in a planned move off a scrum in the 13th minute, and found Mogg out wide with a long cutout pass for 10-6.
However, Basson raced in on an overlap on the left flank for his sixth try of the season to put the Bulls ahead again in the 24th, and Steyn regularly punished Brumbies mistakes with five from five kicks at goal in the first half and three from five in the second.
He also landed a 43rd-minute dropped goal from way out as the Bulls wrestled control in a 28-minute period either side of halftime.
Stander’s try came after a clear knock-on by Steyn. However, Jonkers waved play on and the flanker sped clear of the Brumbies’ static defenders and slipped past a despairing attempted tackle by Mogg to score.
The Brumbies scored their first points in 40 minutes when Ita Vaea drove up the middle and offloaded for Smith to go in under the crossbar in the 69th minute.
Prior supported a surging ACT counterattack to take the final pass and dive over in the 77th minute, and Hegarty scored in the last move of the game to give the strong-finishing Brumbies a second losing bonus point.