Bulls, Blues draw 22-22; Waratahs top Rebels in Super Rugby
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Flyhalf Manie Libbok converted his own try with three minutes remaining for the Bulls to draw with the Blues 22-22 on Friday, adding to a tangled playoffs puzzle in Super Rugby.
Libbok also kicked a penalty and two conversions for 12 points to make a strong contribution to a draw which was much better news for the Bulls than the Blues, whose playoff hopes hang by a thread.
The Pretoria-based Bulls moved up the standings from seventh to fifth at the start of a 16th round in which the standings are likely to remain continually in flux. The Blues began in 13th and could have moved up to ninth with a win but saw their 22-15 lead in the 77th minute evaporate with Libbok’s try.
In the other match, the New South Wales Waratahs beat the Melbourne Rebels 20-15, leaving the Waratahs with a chance of making the playoffs. It was the Waratahs’ sixth win in a row over the Rebels.
The one bonus point meant the Rebels joined the ladder-leading ACT Brumbies atop the Australian conference, although the Canberra-based side can move ahead in a match against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.
Despite the soggy conditions in Melbourne and both teams relying heavily on tactical kicking, it was the outside backs who featured. Veteran center Adam Ashley-Cooper opened the scoring for the Waratahs with a try off a scrum in their own half.
Winger Curtis Rona wrong-footed Rebels fullback Dane Haylett-Petty and got the ball back inside for Bernard Foley, who found the former Wallaby.
Ashley-Cooper also had a hand in one of their second-half tries when he managed to fend off Jack Maddocks long enough to fling a ball back inside that bounced up for Rona to score.
For the Rebels, Wallabies flyer Marika Koroibete continued his strong form. He set up a try for halfback Will Genia in the second half and was unlucky not to score one himself when he charged downfield only to be stopped just short of the tryline.
At Auckland, the sixth stalemate of a season in which draws have been unusually common means the Blues have very little chance of reaching the playoffs with matches remaining against the Queensland Reds and Hurricanes.
The Bulls, who are still to play the Highlanders and Lions, remain in the race both for a playoff place and first place in the South Africa conference.
The Blues led 10-8 after a first half played in wet and slippery conditions, and seemed to have gained some control of the match when they scored first in the second half to lead 15-8.
But the Bulls refused to give up and became more threatening as the rain abated and the match became more flowing. They scored through winger Cornal Hendriks to tie the score at 15-15 and, when the Blues went ahead again through Akira Ioane, leveled the score again with Libbok’s try.
“We were our own undoing,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. “There was bad execution at times and that cost us.”
“It’s a bittersweet one,” Bulls captain Burger Odendaal said. “We played for the people back home tonight. We really wanted to put it through but at the end we’re basically happy with a draw.”