ACT Brumbies center Tevita Kuridrani scored one minute from full time to give his side a 26-23 victory over a stunned Blue Bulls side in their Super Rugby semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Morne Steyn kicked six penalties in his final Super Rugby match to put the Bulls into the lead after they trailed 16-11 at halftime, before the late score handed the Canberra-based side a dramatic victory.
An early try from Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg and a conversion and four penalties from Christian Leali’ifano gave the Brumbies the advantage.
Young Springbok center J.J. Engelbrecht got the home side’s only try and the Bulls then relied on Steyn’s boot to lead 23-19 before Kuridrani’s score.
The victory sets up a final between the Brumbies and the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday, after the New Zealanders defeated compatriots the Canterbury Crusaders 20-19 earlier in the day.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys’ effort, we knew that if we were in it at 40 [halftime], we are a extremely fit side and we could be in for the last 40,” Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen said after the game.
The Brumbies worked their way to a 10-point lead in as many minutes from the start. After an early Leali’ifano penalty, Mogg crossed over for a try in the corner after excellent running from winger Henry Speight.
The try sparked the sluggish Bulls into life and they responded with a try from Engelbrecht in the corner after a patient build-up from the home side.
Steyn landed two penalties for the Bulls in the remainder of the opening period, a feat matched by Leali’ifano, as the Brumbies edged the honors at the break.
Another Steyn penalty two minutes into the second half narrowed the margin, but the Brumbies’ dominance of the scrum, that had been so obvious in the opening half, continued as they won another penalty at the set piece.
Leali’ifano slotted a penalty to extend the visitors’ advantage again and Steyn added two more three-pointers to put the home side into the lead for the first time in the match after an hour.
In a curious change in strategy, the Bulls turned down two kickable penalties in three minutes, opting instead to boot for touch and set up a driving maul. Both times they coughed up possession.
Steyn did kick another penalty after a third Brumbies’ offense, much to the delight of the home crowd, and with the side leading 23-19 in the closing minutes, it looked like it would be the Bulls heading to Hamilton.
However, a break from flyhalf Matt Toomua put Kuridrani in for the match-winning score, with Leali’ifano adding the extra two points.