With the Bulls leading 13-11 at half-time and a ‘Bomb Squad’ waiting to make an impact in the second half, Jake White would have felt quietly confident that his team could beat Edinburgh on Friday night.
But in a dizzying 10 minutes after the break, it all fell apart from the Pretoria outfit as a red card to co-captain Marcell Coetzee, a yellow card to No 8 Cameron Hanekom and two tries by the hosts saw Edinburgh take charge to set up a 31-23 United Rugby Championship victory at the DAM Health Stadium.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Bulls missed out on a deserved losing bonus point with the final kick of the match as Edinburgh flyhalf Ben Healy slotted a penalty close to the right-hand touchline.
That was just rotten luck for the visitors, who showed real gumption to stay in the game after Coetzee was sent off for a dangerous tackle on former Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman. It was a tough call from referee Chris Busby, as Coetzee was bent at the knee, while Schoeman also went low into contact.
“You saw it, and all I can do is repeat that – playing with 13 men for 10 minutes, and 40 minutes with 14 men, you are making it hard for yourself. There were times when we were really good, and I’ve got to be really proud of the way (the Bulls stayed in the game),” White said.
“With four minutes left, we still had a chance to win that game, and with three minutes left, we lose a lineout in their 22...
“Otherwise who knows: we could have scored and won the game. So, I can’t be disappointed with the effort or spirit of the group. Four weeks on tour, and we all know how tough it is to tour for four weeks.”
On the Coetzee red card, the former Springbok coach said: “It was... When I say it was, whether I like it or not, tomorrow when you read in the newspaper, it will be a red card.
“I would like to have a review panel and see what we can do, but if the laws are like that and that’s what the protocols are, then we’ve just got to make sure that we don’t get caught on the wrong side of those protocols.
“But we’ll have a disciplinary hearing, and we’ll have a look at all the factors. Hopefully common sense will prevail and if we can, we can maybe argue a case (of why it should not have been a red card).”
The Bulls rallied in the final quarter, clawing their way back to 28-23 with a try from a tap kick by flank Elrigh Louw, as well as a conversion and penalty by replacement flyhalf Jaco van der Walt.
But Edinburgh held on for a thrilling triumph, while the Bulls were left to ponder on what could have been their third win on their four-match tour, which saw them drop down from first to third on the log after Friday’s fixtures.
White, though, was reluctant to say that the Bulls should have emerged victorious.
“I don’t know if we should have won it – I just think we made it hard for ourselves playing with 14 men... and then not to get a point literally with the last kick. We don’t even get a losing bonus point after all the effort we put in,” he said.
“But those are the margins. I keep saying that’s the difference between... that’s what you’ve got to fight for. I am very proud that we carried on staying in the fight, because at 28-13, it looked like the game was over and we had 14 men on the field.
“I’ve got to compliment the players for their fighting spirit and the way they stuck at the task.”
The Bulls will also be worried about injuries that forced off No 10 Johan Goosen (concussion) and hooker Johan Grobbelaar (hamstring) ahead of next Saturday’s clash against Connacht at Loftus Versfeld (5pm kickoff).