Bulls 33 Edinburgh 31: Last-kick heartache for Blair’s men in Pretoria

Henry Immelman is consoled by Charlie Savala after missing a kick that could have won the match
Henry Immelman is consoled by Charlie Savala after missing a kick that could have won the match

A FRANTIC battle in Pretoria saw Edinburgh emerge with two bonus points in defeat, but it would have been the full five for a win if Henry Immelman had been on target with a penalty in the last kick of the game.

Edinburgh trailed for much of the URC match at Loftus Versfeld, only going ahead for the first time when Mark Bennett converted his team’s last try, scored by Damien Hoyland.

Darcy Graham scored a hat-trick to take his tally to five tries in two games, while Charlie Savala also touched down. But Bennett missed two of his conversion attempts, while Immelman also missed another attempt on goal a few minutes before full time.

In the end, the winning score, minutes after Bennett put Edinburgh in front at 30-31, came from Morne Steyn. Now 38, the man who scored the winning points for the Springboks in last year’s series against the British & Irish Lions is still the deadliest of marksmen, as he proved by steering over his penalty from around 45 metres.

It was a frenzied finish, and a frustrating one for the visitors. Nonetheless, Edinburgh coach Mike Blair insisted he would in no way blame either Immelman or Bennett for the result, pointing out that the team’s three principal goal-kickers – Emiliano Boffelli, Blair Kinghorn and Jaco van der Walt – were all unavailable.

Boffelli is on international duty with Argentina, Kinghorn was ruled out of the game yesterday morning by a stomach bug, and Van der Walt, his replacement, went off early with a head knock.

“We were looking at that game exactly the same as if that kick went over or didn’t,” Blair said. “Henry is not a front-line kicker but he stood up and wanted to do that. It was a difficult kick, he didn’t make it, and of course he is distraught about it. The game was lost in that last 10 minutes and not with that kick.

“I’m disappointed not to come away with the win, but proud of the effort the boys put in. In the first quarter of the game I didn’t think we were quite there mentally. On the positive side, the way we came back and the guts, courage and skill we brought to the game was absolutely outstanding.”

They came back from a long way down, going 15-0 behind in a first quarter which also saw Grant Gilchrist sent to the sin-bin for persistent team offending.

Bulls fly-half Chris Smith opened the scoring with a penalty, then converted Johan Grobbelaar’s score following a tap and go. Another penalty award then allowed the Bulls to do the same thing, with No.8 Elrick Louw finishing it off this time, rolling over and grounding despite a strong attempt by Pierre Schoeman to hold him up.

Smith’s missed conversion was just about the first thing that had gone right for Edinburgh, but they hit back when Savala grounded in the left corner after an excellent break by James Lang. Bennett converted that try and then Graham’s first to make it a one-point game at the break.

A Cornal Hendricks try converted by Smith stretched the Bulls’ lead within a minute of the re-start, but Edinburgh hit back when a penalty by Bennett came back off an upright, and Graham seized on the loose ball, hacked on, then grounded for his second try of the afternoon. Bennett missed the conversion.

Smith made no such mistake minutes later with a penalty, and that score seemed to have put the home team back in command. But then, with both defences tiring, Graham struck again to complete his hat-trick.

Inside the final quarter, an unconverted try by winger Stravino Jacobs made it a six-point lead for the Bulls again, but when Hoyland scored his team’s fifth, Bennett converted to put his team ahead for the first time.

Then came the late drama. Immelman missed, Steyn scored, Immelman missed again and Edinburgh had lost their chance to record what would have been a huge victory.

Scorers, Bulls – Tries: Grobbelaar, Louw, Hendricks, Jacobs. Cons: C Smith 2. Pens: C Smith 2, Steyn.

Edinburgh – Tries: Savala, Graham 3, Hoyland. Cons: Bennett 3.

Bulls: J Goosen; C Hendricks (S Gans 54), L Mapoe, D Kriel, S Jacobs; C Smith (M Steyn 70), Z Burger (E Papier 57); G Steenekamp (S Matanzima 62), J Grobbelaar (J-H Wessels 66), M Smith (F Klopper 61), W Steenkamp, R Nortje (J Swanepoel 57), M Coetzee (capt), R Vermaak (M van Staden 54), E Louw.

Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Graham, M Bennett, J Lang, D Hoyland; J van der Walt (C Savala 11), H Pyrgos (B Vellacott 66); P Schoeman (B Venter 54), D Cherry (S McInally 56), W Nel (L de Bruin 58), S Skinner, G Gilchrist (M Sykes 40-55), J Ritchie (capt), L Crosbie (H Watson 18-28, 41), V Mata (M Sykes 70).

Referee: A Jones (Wales).