Bulls 29 Munster 24
A win may have proved beyond Munster on Johann van Graan’s return to Loftus Versfeld but they fought back from a seemingly hopeless position to secure a losing bonus point and take something from this strange clash in Pretoria.
It would have been expected that Munster might fade in the second half as the heat and altitude took its toll, but instead they came from 29-3 down after 47 minutes to secure a bonus point and almost snatch victory after sorting out their indiscipline, tackling and lineout.
The Bulls dominated the opening half and deservedly led 26-3 at the break, with Munster conceding 10 penalties to two for the home side, while they also paid a big price for 10 missed tackles.
That indiscipline and poor tackling meant Munster were struggling to stay in a game which started out tight and the Bulls only led 6-3 after 10 minutes following a couple of penalties from Chris Smith either side of an effort from Ben Healy.
Munster had a try from Jack O'Donoghue scratched after a review saw Josh Wycherley blocking in the maul and from there the Pretoria side took over with fullback Kurt-Lee Arendse, wing Madosh Tambwe and scrumhalf Embrose Papier full of exciting running, Van Graan's men were on the backfoot and the scores weren't long coming.
Former Ulster number eight Marcell Coetzee made the opening which Tambwe finished off when he punished some poor tackling after 16 minutes and then when Alex Kendellen was binned for a no-arms tackle on Coetzee, the Bulls got in for their second try from Walt Steenkamp.
Chris Smith added both conversions and four penalties to lead 26-3 at the break and the outhalf then pushed it out with another penalty seven minutes after the restart.
But Munster clawed their way back. A tapped penalty was stopped initially but they kept the pressure on and Kendellen squeezed over after 54 minutes, with Ben Healy converting with a drop goal.
Tambwe had a second try ruled out for an earlier knock-on and then at the other end Damian de Allende, who made a big impact off the bench on his return from injury, chased a seemingly hopeless cause after the Bulls had tapped back another Munster lineout, the Springbok was rewarded for his perseverance and touched down. Healy’s conversion cut the gap to 29-17 after 59 minutes.
Then former South African hooker Bismarck du Plessis was red-carded for a tip tackle on Kendellen at the edge of a ruck after 69 minutes and four minutes later Munster drove forward and skipper O’Donoghue got the touchdown after several surges.
Healy converted but that was as close as Munster got as they fell to their fourth defeat of the campaign but picked up a bonus point that looked well beyond them early in the second half and they will now turn their attention to the Lions in Johannesburg next Saturday.
SCORERS – Bulls: M Tambwe, W Steenkamp try each; C Smith 5 pens, 2 cons. Munster: A Kendellen, D de Allende, J O'Donoghue try each; B Healy pen, 3 cons.
BULLS: K Arendse; C Hendricks, L Mapoe, H Vorster, M Tambwe; C Smith, E Papier; G Steenekamp, J Grobbelaar, J van Rooyen; W Steenkamp, R Nortje; M Coetzee, A Botha, E Louw.
Replacements: S Matanzima for G Steenekamp (50 mins), Z Burger for Papier, J Swanepowl for W Steenkamp (both 55), B du Plessis for Grobbelaar, R Hunt for Van Rooyen (both 61), M Steyn for Smith, WJ Steenkamp for Botha ( both 68).
MUNSTER: M Haley; C Nash, C Farrell, R Scannell, S Zebo; B Healy, N Cronin; J Wycherley, N Scannell, S Archer; J Kleyn, F Wycherley; J O'Donoghue, C Cloete, A Kendellen.
Replacements: D Barron for N Scannell (50-79 mins), D de Allende for R Scannell, J Hodnett for Cloete ( both 50 mins); P Patterson for Cronin, J Ryan for Archer (both 55), E O'Connor for Kleyn (62), J Crowley for Zebo, M Donnelly for Wycherley ( both 70)
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales).