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The new-look Emirates Western Force has taken another promising step forward, pushing the Bulls in their 36-26 loss at Loftus Versfeld tonight.
Playing in their 100th Super Rugby appearance, the Emirates Western Force showed tremendous character in taking the match to their more-fancied opponents, and held the lead for a large portion of the second half before forfeiting the scoreboard advantage in the final eight minutes of the match.
The result remained in the balance up until the final whistle until Bulls prop Werner Kruger dived over from short range after the siren to deny the Force a losing bonus point.
The Force’s performance was a far cry from last week’s 22-10 loss to the Kings, with the Western Australians showing improvement in defence, lineout and kicking to build pressure and maintain momentum for large periods of the match.
The visitors were well served by flyhalf Sias Ebersohn, who continued to build scoreboard pressure with an accomplished goal-kicking display that featured two conversions, two penalties and two drop goals for a personal haul of 16 points.
The Force was on the back foot early when Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn sliced through the defensive line from first receiver in the second minute to touch down in the corner.
The remainder of the scoring in the first half was left to the respective side’s goal kickers with Ebersohn landing two long-range attempts – one from 60 metres – to have his side trailing 14-9 at the break.
The Force drew first blood in the second term when Ebersohn added his second drop goal in the 42nd minute, however, the response was swift from the Bulls with winger Sampie Mastriet sneaking down the right flank to score.
Flanker Angus Cottrell then provided Ebersohn with the easiest of conversions to lock up the scores at 19-all after he intercepted a Steyn cut-out pass for an uninterrupted 50-metre run to the line for his maiden Super Rugby try.
The Force then claimed a 26-19 lead at the 57-minute mark when lock Toby Lynn burrowed over for a try in his 50th Super Rugby appearance. The try came on the back of a chip-and-regather from hooker Nathan Charles and several bullocking runs from replacement flanker Chris Alcock, with Lynn on hand to finish off the attacking raid.
Steyn added his fourth penalty attempt to bring his side to within four points, before replacement Jean Cook finished off a long-range rolling maul to take back a 29-26 lead for his side with eight minutes remaining.
While both sides had opportunities to play inside their attacking halves in the final minutes, it was the Bulls that extended their lead after the final siren to take the 10-point win.
The Emirates Western Force will return home to a bye before travelling to Brisbane to tackle the Reds on Saturday, 16 March.
2013 Super Rugby – Week 3
Saturday, 2 March 2013 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 5.05pm (local)/11.05pm (AWST)
Bulls 36 (Morne Steyn, Sampie Mastriet, Jean Cook, Werner Kruger tries; Morne Steyn 2/4 conversions, 4/4 penalty goals) defeated Emirates Western Force 26 (Angus Cottrell, Toby Lynn tries; Sias Ebersohn 2/2 conversion, 2/2 penalty goals, 2/3 drop goals)
Emirates Western Force
1. Pek Cowan, 2. Nathan Charles, 3. Salesi Ma’afu, 4. Toby Lynn, 5. Hugh McMeniman, 6. Angus Cottrell, 7. Matt Hodgson (c), 8. Richard Brown, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Sias Ebersohn, 11. Alfie Mafi, 12. Kyle Godwin, 13. Winston Stanley, 14. Nick Cummins, 15. Will Tupou. Res: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Sam Wykes, 19. Ben McCalman, 20. Chris Alcock, 21. Mick Snowden, 22. Jayden Hayward.
Coach: Michael Foley
1. Morne Mellett, 2. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 3. Werner Kruger, 4. Flip van der Merwe, 5. Juandre Kruger, 6. Jacques Potgieter, 7. Arno Botha, 8. Pierre Spies (c), 9. Francois Hougaard, 10. Morne Steyn, 11. Bjorn Basson, 12. Wynand Olivier, 13. Lionel Mapoe, 14. Sampie Mastriet, 15. Zane Kirchner. Res: 16. Willie Wepener, 17. Frik Kirsten, 18. Grant Hattingh,19. Jean Cook, 20. Jano Vermaak, 21. Louis Fouche, 22. Jan Serfontein.
Coach: Frans Ludeke
Yellow Cards: Nil
Red Cards: Nil
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Crowd: Not announced
By the Clock