Vodacom Bulls midfielder JJ Engelbrecht was denied at the death as the Reds outlasted the Bulls 23-18 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Brisbane on Saturday.
While the Reds were probably the better side on the night, the victory was overshadowed by a poor officiating performance by the match officials, including two dubious yellow cards that spoilt the match as a spectacle.
However, those decisions were not the reason that the Bulls lost, as they failed to capitalise on a Reds team that made as many mistakes as they created opportunities, and possibly lost this game when they made nine changes in their team selection midweek.
There was no doubt that the Bulls could have used a few cool heads in the backline, while the physicality of someone like Flip van der Merwe was sorely missed upfront. Out wide they were constantly under pressure by both Quade Cooper and Digby Ioane, leaving much to be desired in the defensive alignment at times.
To come close at the end, when Engelbrecht was tackled out in the corner, just shows that while the Bulls' performance was disjointed, the Reds were hardly the dominant force they normally are at home.
The Bulls have won only once in these parts in their last nine starts, and they could have taken this one if their attack hadn't been so unsure and impotent at times.
Engelbrecht’s burst at the end was the closest they came to scoring a try on the night, a fact that will haunt them as they head to a tougher match next week against the Brumbies.
And were it not for the boot of Louis Fouche, who had an indifferent game at 10, the Bulls may have struggled to keep in touch on the scoreboard.
The Bulls' pressure game in the first half was good, allowing them to hold a slender 6-3 lead in early action, overshadowed by a dubious yellow to Jonno Lance, where he was adjudged to have lifted a Bulls player above the horizontal.
Replays showed the infringement should have been yielded nothing more than a penalty, but the precedent set in the decision was to backfire later in the game for the Bulls.
Some poor defence allowed Cooper to ghost through past a ruck and let Lance score shortly after his return to the field, sending the Reds 13-6 in at the break.
CRUCIAL YELLOW CARD
But three quick penalties in the second half brought the Bulls right back into it, and allowed them to move into a 15-13 lead before the crucial moment happened when Lionel Mapoe was yellow-carded for his tackle on James Slipper.
Despite the referee and assistant referee’s take, the TMO was called in and suggested a yellow, even though it seemed Slipper had launched himself to try and dive over Mapoe, who was under him. Either way it was a harsh call which cost the Bulls their lead and 10 points while the winger was on the sidelines.
Cooper found the space he needed shortly after Mapoe’s departure, as the Reds attacked and left him to dance around Werner Kruger to put his team back into the lead, and then added a penalty shortly afterwards.
The arrival of the older brigade – Juandre Kruger, Morne Steyn – and youngster Jan Serfontein injected some life into the Bulls, as Steyn assured them a bonus point with a late penalty and Serfontein underlined in 15 minutes why so much is thought of him and how poor the decision was not to start him in the first place.
With the hooter sounding, the Bulls had one final chance and looked to have scored when the replays showed Engelbrecht’s foot on the sideline. The Reds celebrated a victory they would be more than relieved about.
But there was little else to celebrate for anyone from the game, which won’t go down as one of the classics.
Reds – Tries: Jonno Lance, Quade Cooper. Conversions: Cooper (2). Penalty: Cooper (3).
Vodacom Bulls – Penalties: Louis Fouche (5), Morne Steyn.