Chiefs captain Aaron Cruden scored a try in the last minute, and Gareth Anscombe slotted a sideline conversion as the Chiefs stormed back to earn a 34-all draw against the Vodacom Bulls in their Vodacom Super Rugby game at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The Bulls will be kicking themselves after racking up a 16-point lead with 12 minutes to go, and heading into the last five minutes still 12 points ahead. They watched, however, as the Chiefs clawed their way back with two long range tries to grab the draw.
And in this case a draw is more like a win for the defending Super Rugby champions as, by outscoring the Bulls five tries to three, they take three points away from the game to the Bulls' two.
That was evident in the Chiefs’ celebrations, when Anscombe sent the ball through the posts, while the Bulls looked like they had lost the game rather than drawn it.
In the end the Bulls inability to sustain the pressure they had created – they were in the Chiefs’ 22 for large parts of the second half – as they chased the bonus point, that cost them. The Chiefs threw everything they had at the Bulls, spreading the ball from side to side and the Bulls' defence folded. The gaps were there and the Chiefs exploited it.
The stats show just how the two sides differed, with the Chiefs carrying the ball just two metres shy of 500, while the Bulls carried for a mere 117 metres. The Bulls were forced to defend a large part of the time, making 126 tackles to the Chiefs’ 66 and missed 19 tackles to the Chiefs' 8.
Still, for most of the game, if you looked at the scoreboard, the Bulls would have been ahead comfortably, having exploited the pressure and the Chiefs' failing scrum, using their rolling maul to good effect for two tries and slotting the kicks when it mattered.
But those last 11 minutes, where the Chiefs scored three tries, could make a massive difference to the rest of the season, especially when we get to the business end of the tournament.
Such was the quality of the Chiefs' attack at times, that the tries they scored will easily be in the season highlights package, making them look incredibly easy while the Bulls had to work for every scrap of ball.
Yet it worked for most of the game, and the Bulls' approach wasn’t necessarily the wrong one. The defence just faltered when it mattered most.
Credit must be given to Frans Ludeke’s side for coming back from 12-3 down, after Mils Muliana took a beautiful inside ball to rush up the middle and score in the 13th minute, followed by another inside ball that saw Liam Messam touch down.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicked a second penalty before the Bulls juggernaut rumbled over the line from the line-out to keep it close, with the Bulls going into the break one point behind the Chiefs.
The rolling maul was again used to good effect to get the second try, and was illegally pulled down by Chiefs lock Matt Symons, forcing referee Craig Joubert to give a penalty try and Symons a yellow card for his efforts.
With the numerical advantage, the Bulls pressed home, with Bjorn Basson getting his name on the scoresheet with a beautiful step to beat Anton Lienert-Brown, then toeing ahead and collecting to score a try that seemed to make it safe for the Bulls.
When Potgieter added another penalty in the 56th minute, it looked like the Bulls would cruise home and close out the match. And for much of the next 10 minutes the Bulls camped in the Chiefs' half trying to get the bonus point.
Substitutions – especially that of Deon Stegmann, a deserved man of the match - seemed to give the Chiefs that extra hope they needed and they used it.
With 11 minutes to go the Chiefs sold a beautiful dummy to beat the defender in their own 22, spread it wide and showed amazing hands to run the length of the field for an absolutely amazing try, finished off by substitute Anscombe.
It was this that gave them hope, and while Potgieter seemed to make it safe with another penalty shortly afterwards, it was Augustine Pulu who powered his way through three tackles to be stopped short of the line, with Symons picking up and scoring.
Two minutes on the clock and a missed conversion by Anscombe seemed to kill off the Chiefs' chances again, but a final attack, with much patience and determination, eventually found the gap. Messam and Asaeli Tikoirotuma played a massive role in finding the gap, before it looked as if it was dead again when Aaron Cruden got the ball with two defenders on him.
Somehow he went in at the corner, allowing the Chiefs to have some hope, and when Anscombe slotted a difficult conversion from the sideline, they broke into celebrations.
The Bulls will now head on tour knowing they will have to perform better than the other South African teams on tour.
BULLS - Try: Deon Stegmann, Penalty Try, Bjorn Basson; Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2); Penalties: Potgieter (5)
CHIEFS - Tries: Mils Muliaina, Liam Messam, Gareth Anscombe, Matt Symons, Aaron Cruden; Conversions: Cruden (2), Anscombe; Penalty: Cruden