Chiefs fight back to salvage dramatic draw
The Chiefs showed the consistency of curdled milk in their 34-34 draw against the Bulls in Pretoria yesterday morning.
After a ruthless start, calmly taking advantage of Bulls mistakes in the opening 20 minutes, the Chiefs thawed for the next 50 minutes before a blistering comeback in the final 10 secured an unlikely draw.
Aaron Cruden's outstretched arms managed to connect leather with chalk for a last second try, before Gareth Anscombe slotted a sideline conversion to complete a 16-point, 11-minute comeback to finish the match.
Coach Dave Rennie admitted his team struggled for field position through the middle stages of the game, as the Bulls won the kicking battle and pinned the Chiefs inside their own half.
The Bulls had a ruthless streak of their own, capitalising on Chiefs mistakes and dominating at set piece time, especially in the lineout.
Mils Muliaina opened the scoring for the Chiefs in the 13th minute, finishing off a ruthlessly efficient attack.
Having won the ball back after a Bulls knock-on inside their own 22m, the Chiefs rumbled up field, jogging past the gain line at will, before Aaron Cruden put Muliaina into a gap for the try.
The Chiefs were in again five minutes later, with co-captain Liam Messam finishing off a swift counter-attack as the Bulls defence became as brittle as a jenga pile.
On attack it was a different story for the Bulls, as they found territory easy to come by and camped out inside the Chiefs half.
Flanker Deon Stegmann scored the Bulls first try of the match after 30 minutes, as the pressure on the Chiefs defence finally told.
The Bulls superior lineout gave a solid base for the maul five metres from the line, and Stegmann was the man with the ball as they crossed the line.
Springbok legend Victor Matfield was causing havoc for the Chiefs at lineout time, and Chiefs hooker Rhys Marshall was overthrowing all of his targets.
After the break the Chiefs set piece issues only got worse, as the Bulls mauled 30m from a lineout before Matt Symons brought down the maul, with referee Craig Joubert awarding a penalty try and handing Symons a yellow card.
They were in again four minutes later when winger Bjorn Basson created a bit of individual magic on the left flank.
After stepping around teenager Anton Lienert-Brown, Basson put in a grubber kick before chasing it down and scoring in the corner as Messam was unable to collect the awkwardly bouncing ball.
Substitute Gareth Anscombe gave the Chiefs a sniff with 11 minutes to play, combining with Augustine Pulu and Tim Nanai-Williams down the right flank and running from 80m out to score the try.
Anscombe kicked the conversion, taking over kicking duties from Cruden who had a spotty display with the boot, reducing the deficit to nine points with 10 minutes remaining.
Potgieter added another penalty with five minutes left, but then Symons gave the Chiefs further hope with a try with four minutes remaining, reducing the deficit to seven points.
Replacement hooker Mahonri Schwalger found Pulu with a cute trick lineout 10m from the try line, and after taking it close, Symons did the rest.
Then it was time for co-captain Cruden to step up.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma broke free up the middle of the field with time almost expired, and then found Cruden on the inside.
Cruden found his way to the corner and just pressed the ball onto the try line chalk.
That meant Anscombe had to slot a conversion inches from the left sideline, having missed an easier kick three minutes earlier.
With nerves of steel, Anscombe slotted it down the middle to secure the Chiefs an unlikely draw.