Cape Town — The Bulls survived a last-gasp penalty attempt by Edinburgh as veteran Morné Steyn was the hero in a 33-31 bonus-point victory in a titanic United Rugby Championship clash at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Steyn landed a late three-pointer himself in a difficult kick from close to the touchline around the 10-metre mark, and it looked like the Pretoria outfit had done enough to win the game.
But the Scottish side showed typical fighting spirit to win the final kickoff, and were awarded a controversial penalty just inside the Bulls half when home wing Stravino Jacobs was adjudged to have made a high tackle in a massive hit on Edinburgh centre Mark Bennett.
South African-born fullback Henry Immelman stepped up to try to win the game for his team, but he sliced his lengthy attempt wide to the right, and the home fans erupted into celebration.
It was certainly a triumph worth savouring as Edinburgh disrupted the Bulls’ rhythm from about the 20th-minute onwards, after Jake White’s team stormed into a 15-0 lead.
The likes of captain Marcell Coetzee, No 8 Elrigh Louw, lock Ruan Nortje and hooker Johan Grobbelaar were prominent in the early exchanges as the Bulls won the physical battle upfront.
Grobbelaar grabbed the first try after a clever move off a five-metre tap penalty, which saw flank Ruan Vermaak pass to Coetzee, who offloaded in the tackle for the No 2 to dot down.
And when Edinburgh’s co-captain Grant Gilchrist was yellow-carded following repeated infringements, the Bulls took full advantage when Louw charged over from a lineout move.
White may have thought the result was in the bag at 15-0, but Edinburgh refused to lie down. They were hit by adversity before kickoff when flyhalf Blair Kinghorn withdrew, and his replacement Jaco van der Walt then went off with concussion in the 12th minute.
Youngster Charlie Savala came on and helped his team to launch a courageous fightback as Edinburgh showcased their renowned ball-in-hand approach.
It paid off as the Bulls slipped too many tackles, and after a line-break by centre James Lang, Savala went over.
Speedy wing Darcy Graham ran in a second touchdown following more impressive phase-play by the visitors, and suddenly it was 15-14 at halftime.
White would’ve made his message clear at the break for the Bulls to display better ball retention and tighten up on defence, and it paid dividends immediately from the second-half kickoff.
Wing Cornal Hendricks won the ball in the air, and later Nortje nearly scored, before the ball was recycled to Hendricks to finish.
Edinburgh, though, never gave up. In a comical error by the Bulls, the ball bounced into play from the uprights off a Mark Bennett penalty attempt, and Graham pounced to kick ahead and claim his hat-trick.
It was all to play for at 25-24 to the Bulls, and urged on by their supporters on a hot Pretoria afternoon, they looked to have secured the victory when Jacobs burst through after a powerful run by prop Simphiwe Matanzima.
But once again, coach Mike Blair would’ve been delighted with the spirit of his team as Edinburgh took the lead for the first time when Damien Hoyland dotted down after good hands down the backline.
The Scottish side were leading 31-30 with 10 minutes to go, and opted for a long-range shot at goal by Immelman with five minutes left, which he missed.
The Bulls forwards rolled up their sleeves to earn a few scrum penalties, the second of which was in range for Steyn, and the old warhorse showed his class once more to boot the ball over for a 33-31 lead.
Then it came down to Immelman again after the hooter, and he was unable to land the winning kick.
Bulls 33 – Tries: Johan Grobbelaar, Elrigh Louw, Cornal Hendricks, Stravino Jacobs. Conversions: Chris Smith (2). Penalties: Smith (2), Morné Steyn (1).
Edinburgh 31 – Tries: Charlie Savala, Darcy Graham (3), Damien Hoyland. Conversions: Mark Bennett (3).