Controversial penalty downs Bulls
Brenden Nel
March 30, 2013

Brumbies midfielder Christian Lealiifano kicked a controversial injury time penalty to give his team a 23-20 win over the Vodacom Bulls in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Canberra on Saturday.

But while the Brumbies and their coach Jake White will celebrate a victory, the winning penalty came from a controversial call by referee Jonathan White who raised questions as to his ability to ref at this level with a number of dubious calls.

It followed an inconsistent performance by White in which he allowed only the Brumbies leeway at the breakdown, and perplexed both sides with calls that sometimes bordered on the ludicrous.

It also further raised eyebrows as to the state of refereeing in the Sanzar competition, especially after a week where Sanzar refs boss Lyndon Bray spent time in South Africa putting out fires after reffing controversies the week before.

Still, while the Brumbies didn’t really deserve the penalty they got – replays showed Nick White to not be supporting his own body weight in the breakdown – the Bulls hardly deserved to win the game either.

They end their four-week trip of the Antipodes on a complete low – winning just one game and throwing away both chances in Australia to take points home. While they will point to a long competition ahead, their results will now place more emphasis on winning in South Africa if they are to make any impact on the playoffs later in the year.

And while in many quarters the focus will be on the one penalty, Bulls fans should look at the game soberly and rather question some of their own team tactics in a game they could have – and should have won – if they employed them correctly.

There has been much said of the Bulls' kicking game plan but on Saturday they faced a Brumbies side which employed a virtual carbon copy of their game plan – and executed it a lot better.

Here are the post-match interviews, which couldn't be aired due to time restraints.

The Brumbies – while they were poor as well – were up to everything the Bulls kickers sent their way, and made more yards on their own kicks, nullifying any advantage the Bulls may have taken out of it.

The Bulls truly looked dangerous the few times they moved the ball wide – but these were also times you could count on one hand, as they insisted on kicking most possession back to the Brumbies.

It is also questionable how Arno Botha – clearly the best forward on the tour – was left on the bench until the 76th minute, while Zane Kirchner was kept on the field while everything went wrong for him on the evening.

But Kirchner’s nightmare wasn’t close to the one experienced by Morne Mellett – who was penalised repeatedly at the scrum for dropping his bind, and eventually yellow carded in the process.

When the Bulls had an opportunity to bring on a replacement, they replaced Werner Kruger, and not Mellett, and shortly afterwards took the card. It was a monumental failure in planning, and cost them a man for 10 minutes in the process.

Still despite this the Bulls were once again competitive, as they were in Brisbane, and once again they will walk away shaking their heads wondering if this was another opportunity missed.

The reality is the Bulls lost this game before halftime, as they went 14-3 down after dominating parts of the half, and while they fought back to 20-20 with seconds to go, were never always a bit lucky to be there.

Both sides looked listless in the first quarter of the game, and failed to find any openings, except for the boot where three Lealiifano penalties were all that was needed for a 9-3 lead. The Bulls were a bit lucky as well, as Nick White missed two long-range penalties of his own, but the halfback made it count as he produced a stunner of a pass on the stroke of halftime to send Robbie Coleman over.

At 14-3 down at the break, the Bulls were staring down a barrel.

Yet they started with a new lease of life and were denied when Lionel Mapoe lost control of the ball as he went over the line. Minutes later they were avenged, as this time Jurgen Visser broke two tackles to score and bring them within four.

Steyn’s boot made the deficit one with a penalty, but Lealiifano stretched that lead back to seven with two penalties of his own.

When Botha finally appeared on the field, a quick break by the flanker was sent to Jan Serfontein, who unleashed JJ Engelbrecht on the wing to run in and score.

The scores were level when Steyn slotted a sideline scorcher, but from the kickoff Botha took the ball up, and was pinned at the breakdown in controversial style.

It was a hollow end to a hollow tour, but while the penalty had the Bulls spitting fire, they will be hoping their own team decided to play a bit more rugby when they get back to Loftus Versfeld.


Brumbies – Try: Robbie Coleman. Penalties: Christian Lealiifano (6).

Vodacom Bulls – Try: Jurgen Visser, JJ Engelbrecht. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (2).

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