Chris Smith. (Photo by Ben Evans/Gallo Images)
The Bulls ended their European leg of their United Rugby Championship on a low note when they lost 17-10 to Edinburgh at the DAM Health Stadium in Scotland’s capital on Saturday.
That the hosts were deserving winners shouldn’t be disputed, especially with how the game unfolded in the second half.
However, the officiating left plenty to be desired and the Bulls will have every reason to feel aggrieved.
Their tour ends with three losses from four matches, but in this game, the Bulls struggled to find fluency in both halves.
The Bulls may not have created enough to score a try in the first half, but Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse effectively blew the out of the first stanza.
Whitehouse’s officiating had little to do with Henry Immelman’s eighth-minute try that originated from Damien Hoyland’s chip, but it ensured the hosts were in the money positions for the better part of the first half.
Whitehouse’s officiating allowed Edinburgh to not only get the leg up from a points perspective through Jaco van der Walt’s penalties, but the freedom of the breakdown.
If the Bulls infringed, a shrill blast would resonate around the ground, but nothing when the hosts were the infringers.
The one-eyed officiating forced the Bulls into an enterprising style of rugby that avoided going to the ground.
That also helped neutralise the ascendant Bulls pack that asked all the questions, but had got little reward for their work.
This brought the worst and the best out of their most experienced forward in Bismarck du Plessis, who was exceptional at the breakdown.
A penalty the Bulls conceded when Du Plessis struck out at former Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman for cleaning him out dangerously summed up the Bulls’ frustration.
The initial penalty for the turnover accrued by Du Plessis was correctly given, but Whitehouse was blind to Schoeman’s foul play.
The nine-point buffer came in handy in what was a turgid and error-strewn second half where both sides seemed to forget about Scotland autumn weather vagaries.
Whitehouse’s officiating improved, but with the advantage gained from the first half, the hosts were able to play the correct percentages.
With Van der Walt off the field with what looked like a shoulder injury, Edinburgh didn’t have a point of attack in the backs, but their forwards took charge.
They won numerous scrum penalties, but most of them weren’t in areas that allowed for points scoring.
When they did, inside centre James Lang then hit the upright with an attempt.
That let-off was gradually capitalised on by the Bulls, who after multiple phases, finally crossed the whitewash through captain Marcell Coetzee in the 70th minute.
The lead had been narrowed to four points, but Mark Bennett’s 73rd-minute penalty gave the hosts a seven-point lead.
Two minutes later, Madosh Tambwe looked like he’d scored the try that would have given them an opportunity to draw level, but Whitehouse, in consultation with television match official Sean Bricknell, ruled that it was double movement.
That was the final screw as Edinburgh again played the percentages before a late penalty saved their bacon.
Edinburgh (14) 17
Try: Henry Immelman
Penalties: Jaco van der Walt (3), Mark Bennett
Bulls (3) 10
Try: Marcell Coetzee
Conversion: Morne Steyn
Penalty: Chris Smith