Brumbies midfielder Tevita Kuridrani scored a 78th-minute try to shock the Vodacom Bulls into submission and send the Australian side into the Vodacom Super Rugby final against the Chiefs next weekend.
Kuridrani’s try silenced the normally boisterous Loftus faithful as the Brumbies beat the Bulls 26-23 to continue a fairytale run for former Springbok coach Jake White, who has revived Brumbies rugby in only his second season in charge.
But the Bulls will lament several moments of madness, as they left the back gate open for the Brumbies after failing to put them away when they got on top in terms of momentum and then watched helplessly as the Australian side took their opportunity at the right time to win the game.
After Morne Steyn pushed them ahead in the 60th minute – the first time they had the lead in the entire game – the Bulls dominated play and won no less than three kickable penalties in the Brumbies 22m area.
But inexplicably, captain Dewald Potgieter decided over and over again to go for a lineout drive, and each time they fluffed their chances as their lineout creaked and the Brumbies were simply up to the task of stopping the maul when they needed to.
They say madness is the act of trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The Bulls may have been looking to get more than a try ahead of their opposition and felt they had the momentum to do it.
However, the margins in knockout games are so small that opportunities don’t always present themselves as easily as the Bulls had them tonight. And when they are there, they need to be taken.
With the crowd baying for a shot at goal after the second penalty, it was rather curious that the Bulls went the same way a third time. Only on the fourth occasion Steyn stepped up to take the kick at goal.
It was a strange bunch of decisions, especially considering the Bulls have the best kicker in the competition; a kicker that is the second highest scorer in Super Rugby history and could have exited his last game at Loftus Versfeld with more than the 18 points he put through on the night.
Still, to take away from the Brumbies’ composure, their ability to soak up the pressure and their tactical brilliance in nullifying the Bulls attack on so many occasions would be a travesty.
Keep in mind they had to travel across the Indian Ocean to do it and will now have to travel back to try and dethrone the champions. That takes some doing.
The Brumbies came to Loftus to silence the crowd and they did this in exceptional fashion. The Bulls spoke the entire week about starting off on the right foot, and not having to play catch-up rugby.
But from the moment the Brumbies won the kickoff and within moments were on the board through a penalty as Francois Hougaard was in from the side at the ruck, it clear it was going to be a long afternoon.
In the setpieces, where the Bulls needed so desperately to dominate, they found the going tough. Their frontrow was penalised three times in kicking positions, costing nine points on the day. Whatever their review system of the game says, the scrum is their Achilles' heel at the moment and at this level is becoming increasingly costly.
Hougaard didn’t cover himself in glory either a few minutes later when Henry Speight ran right through his ineffectual tackle, with Bjorn Basson grappling at air as the winger swept past to send Jesse Mogg away to score the opening try and give the visitors a 10-0 lead.
It was the start the Bulls were dreading, but they did hit back almost immediately when an inside pass from Basson found JJ Engelbrecht, who slid over in the corner.
Steyn may have missed his first kick, but he was right on the button from there on. But as effective as he was, the Bulls conceded penalties at crucial times within kicking distance, and Christian Lealiifano simply kept the scoreboard ticking over to stay in front of the home side.
With George Smith enjoying a field day at the ruck, often with much leeway, the Bulls struggled to get the momentum they so desperately needed to take control of the game. When the Bulls closed the gap to 16-14, Lealiifano took it back to five points thanks to another scrum penalty.
But then – and despite still struggling in quite a few areas - the Bulls started to get control. They were forcing the Brumbies into mistakes and started playing the territory game a lot better.
Steyn added two more penalties to take the lead and it seemed for the first time as if Loftus’ most deadly boot was steering his team towards a victory they had pulled off so many times before. They suffocated the opposition up front and let Steyn’s boot put them away.
Heading into the last few minutes, at 23-19 up, the Bulls looked as if they would hold on for victory. The Brumbies regained the kickoff, though, through Smith’s brilliance. They patiently set up the phases and waited for the mistake.
It came when Basson shot out of the defensive line, and Matt Toomua saw it quick enough to make it count.
The Brumbies' dream was the Bulls' nightmare. It could have easily been the other way around.
Vodacom Bulls – Try: JJ Engelbrecht. Penalties: Morné Steyn(6).
Brumbies – Tries: Jesse Mogg, Tevita Kuridrani. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (2). Penalties: Christian Lealiifano (4).