Blues blow late chances in draw with Bulls

Bulls' Ruan Steenkamp hugs teammate Lizo Gqoboka (L) after the Super Rugby match between New Zealand's Auckland Blues and South Africa's Northern Bulls at Eden Park in Auckland on May 31, 2019.
Bulls' Ruan Steenkamp hugs teammate Lizo Gqoboka (L) after the Super Rugby match between New Zealand's Auckland Blues and South Africa's Northern Bulls at Eden Park in Auckland on May 31, 2019.
Image: MICHAEL BRADLEY / AFP

Auckland Blues and Northern Bulls ground out a 22-22 draw Friday, with the New Zealanders’ squandering two late chances for victory to end their hopes of making the finals.

Each side scored three tries in a match that only sparked to life in the second half, when torrential rain at Eden Park finally eased.

They were both desperate for a win but the result suits the Bulls better, lifting them to second in the South African conference, at least temporarily, on 34 points.

That puts them in the mix for a playoff berth, but the Blues still sit outside the top eight on 28 points and their dream of making the finals for the first time since 2011 is over.

They missed a drop goal attempt in the 79th minute, then Harry Plummer sent a penalty kick wide after the siren.

“We’re in a tough spot, we’ll take this as a loss,” captain Patrick Tuipulotu said.

“We wanted a win with a bonus try but unfortunately couldn’t do that. It’s been a tough year, ut we’ve improved a lot. We can take it on the chin but have to keep moving forward.”

The Bulls entered the match as underdogs, having lost 11 of their last 12 matches on the Blues’ home turf and missing key players in Duane Vermeulen and Handre Pollard.

Stand-in skipper Burger Odendaal said any points were welcome in a tight race for the finals.

“It’s a bittersweet one,” he said. ” We really wanted to out it through tonight but in the end we’re basically happy with a draw.”

Hanro Liebenberg scored the opening try when the Bulls held onto the ball after a lineout and patiently worked it through 11 phases.

The Blues almost hit back immediately but Marco van Staden produced a try-saving tackle on the line.

Auckland prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi made no mistake a few minutes later, crashing over after a run from Akira Ioane to put the hosts 10-8 ahead at half-time.

Scott Scrafton extended the Blues’ lead with a try in the corner after the restart before Bulls winger Cornal Hendricks made it 15-15 after chasing his own chip-kick down the sideline.

Tit-for-tat tries to Akira Ioane and Manie Libbok again levelled the scores with four minutes on clock, with the Blues going on the attack but failing to find a breakthrough to save their season. ns/je -AFP

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