Controversial: Pat O’Connor is sent off in the final minutes of the Waratahs loss to the Bulls in Pretoria. Picture: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
Over: Bulls player Wynand Olivier scores a try against the Waratahs. Picture: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
Man of the match: Kurtley Beale had an outstanding game in a losing side. Picture: Getty Images.
Source: Getty Images
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A RED card to lock Pat OConnor added insult to many injuries for the Waratahs this morning as they fell to the Bulls in an event-packed match in Pretoria.
The Tahs’ finals hopes took a big dent after being beaten 23-17 at Loftus Versfeld but NSW went down fighting after suffering a huge injury toll and being reduced to 14 men in the final 13 minutes.
O’Connor was marched for using his head to clean out an opponent in a ruck but despite being a man down the battered Tahs pressured the Bulls’ line until the final whistle in the hope of scoring a miracle win.
Man-of-the-match Kurtley Beale was a menace all night and almost slipped through but it wasn’t to be and the defending champion Bulls crept home.
NSW had to make do with a bonus-point, and it sees them still in the top six with 47 points pending the result of the Sharks-Cheetahs tomorrow morning.
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Against huge odds, the Waratahs’ courage was enormous, defence strong and attack sharp, but their finals hopes were damaged after again being forced to count their wounded.
Four players were forced from the field; key prop Ben Robinson (ankle) and his replacement Paddy Ryan (shoulder) both came off, forcing uncontested scrums in the final half hour.
Ben Mowen and Lachie Turner also left the arena, and with O’Connor due to face the judiciary, the troops are thinning for NSW.
Whether O’Connor is banned remains to be seen.
Touch judge Pro Legate advised referee Craig Joubert of the incident but initially said it did not warrant a red card. Joubert said a headbutt must be a red card, and Legate hesitantingly backtracked and agreed.
An enterprising first half of running rugby saw NSW push the Bulls, but trailed by 13-6 at halftime. But when it went out to 20-6 and injuries mounted in the second half, things looked grim.
But led by Beale, Tatafu Polota-Nau and a gutsy team effort, NSW clawed their way back with a try to Afa Pakalani and two Beale penalties.
But trailing by 20-17, O’Connor was then marched and the pressure valve was released for the Bulls.
NSW emerged full of running but the Bulls had a very early chance to score after Bjorn Basson was set free off a quick-tap by captain Victor Matfield.
Basson’s chip and chase almost resulted in a try but Lachie Turner saved the day by swooping in the NSW in-goal.
Beale opened the scoring soon after with a 50-metre penalty as the Waratahs kept up their expansive play, stressing the Bulls’ defence.
It was in a similar vein to their 2010 approach but this time, the Bulls’ tacklers were able to scramble.
NSW were doing a good job of spoiling the Bulls’ rolling maul and largely denying the Bulls long stints in their own half. Showing good wide ball movement, starch in defence and necessary aggression at the breakdown, the Tahs kept the big Bulls team struggling to kick-start their game.
Beale, in particular, was heavily involved and made several breaks.
But you don’t keep Morne Steyn quiet for long, and the human metronome banged over his first penalty in the 16th minute.
NSW lost Robinson in the 18th minute, throwing a spanner in the works at the set-piece.
But the visitors kept up the pressure, and Tatafu Polota-Nau went close to scoring soon after surging through a gap near the line.
Luke Burgess lost the ball at the ensuing breakdown however.
Loose passing would cost the Tahs several more chances to press home their attack, and allowed the Bulls to gain cheap possession and territory.
Beale nailed another penalty to stretch the lead to 6-3 but slopping NSW passing led to the Bulls pressuring their line. A jarring hit by TPN on Bakkies Botha stopped one raid, and NSW’s defence and counter-rucking showed starch.
Steyn hit another penalty in the 33rd minute but missed a rare shot in the 39th. It didn’t matter, because from a lineout straight after the Bulls cracked the Tahs’ defence to score.
Off the back of a lineout, wing Gerhard Van de Heever slipped past Chris Alcock and Daniel Halangahu before sending Wynand Olivier.
NSW would have been disappointed to be behind 13-6 but soon after play resumed, things got worse. Lachie Turner didn’t return after the break and with the Tahs on attack, a turnover by Deon Stegman saw the Bulls scoot down his right flank.
Wynand Olivier, Zane Kirchner and Jaco Pretorious all handled as they flew down the sideline before Basson finally scooted over in the 44th minute.
Injuries continued to pile up for NSW. When Paddy Ryan went off, it went to uncontested scrums in the 53rd minute and Ben Mowen also hobbled off five minutes later.
Kurtley Beale kicked a penalty in the 58th minute to keep NSW in the fight however and they kept up the pressure.
Led by Polota-Nau’s ball-running, NSW almost scored when Halangahu slid over under the posts in the 61st minute. He was ruled held up but from the ensuing scrum, a simple wide hands move saw Pakalani unmarked and he dived over in the corner.
Beale nailed another penalty to draw within three but hopes of an unlikely win were dashed when O’Connor was marched, NSW went down to 14 men and Steyn added another three.