Bulls issue conference warning
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - It
might be exaggerating to say all of Super Rugby will be trembling just
yet, but rivals in the South African conference, at the very least, have
been served some notice of the Bulls’ 2012 aspirations.
The Loftus-based side overpowered the Cheetahs
by a striking margin of 23 points (39-16) in their friendly encounter
at Polokwane on Saturday, a signal two weeks out from full hostilities
that they ought to be a tough nut to crack in the competition and
particularly the derby pool.
Inevitably some observers, and
probably even a few of their faithful fans, probably assume that a
period of rebuilding will be required by the franchise, following the
departure en masse of so many iconic Pretoria figures in 2011.
extension, that implies some months or even a campaign or two of
under-performance by a team well used to lifting the tournament spoils.
while pre-season exercises can be less than accurate barometers, the
Bulls demonstrated at Peter Mokaba Stadium that even if their trademark
conservative, highly physical formula for attempted success is unlikely
to alter to any great extent this year, they will not be easy-beats for
Why, some of their more optimistic supporters may even
be starting to just chew on the possibility that the class of 2012, more
youthful in several departments, goes one better than last season by
making the playoffs rather than being narrowly squeezed out.
mid-June last year, the Sharks went to Loftus for an effective
eliminator, and won a nail-biter 26-23 to progress, simultaneously
scuppering the Bulls’ chances of achieving a hat-trick of titles.
is the very same opponents who go to Pretoria in just under a fortnight
to open SA conference activity, and even if the occasion hardly needs
any extra spice, the Bulls’ thumping victory against the Cheetahs on
Saturday suggests we’re in for an early cracker under floodlights - and
perhaps even a key marker for the long slog ahead?
that the Bulls won’t be suddenly tossing into the fray a bunch of kids
just out of nappies, as it were, to compensate for the loss of Messrs
Matfield, Botha, Steenkamp, Rossouw and company.
Several of the
new generation will be rather more streetwise than that, and it was
demonstrated at Polokwane by Dean Greyling, a comfortingly ferocious
ball-carrier and mauler to take regular occupancy of the loosehead
prop’s jersey, and Juandré Kruger, who confirmed his budding lineout
prowess and thus suitability to inherit the No 5 shirt from the peerless
I fancy also that, even with Pierre Spies
already known to be captain for the season and thus “safe” for the No 8
slot, a place in the loose trio will simply have to be found -
blindside flank, you’d think - for the 21-year-old who stood in for him
in the friendly, CJ Stander.
Stander was one of the better Bulls
presences in their difficult Currie Cup last year, and seems to be only
getting better as a forceful element in the team’s still evident
knock-‘em-back-hard philosophy up front.
He did make one bad,
unforced handling error against the Cheetahs, on a day when both teams
lapsed consistently in the basic ball-skills department: here’s hoping
early-season rust was more the reason than the still widely-held belief
that South Africa lags behind their other SANZAR partners in this area.
Bulls look as though they will remain well less than pioneers for
unpredictability in their play, which will again revolve around the pack
creating a fairly unsubtle but effective bridgehead and Morné Steyn
remaining a massively influential figure at flyhalf both with his
tactical kicking and pot-shots off the tee - in this match he showed
that his metronomic ability at landing the ball between the posts is
For long periods of play, both sets of three-quarters
just couldn’t get out of the blocks for inspiring hand-to-hand play,
which is especially unusual for the Cheetahs.
But as visiting hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss
admitted afterwards: “Credit to the Bulls; they disrupted us totally
(for possession) ... our defence was good but we’re an attacking team.”
hats off to the Bulls for at least manufacturing one genuinely
crowd-pleasing, long-range try a minute or two before the final whistle,
rounded off by a flying Zane Kirchner after a slippery bit of skill and deception by admirably versatile Francois Hougaard.
top overseas Super Rugby teams watching the Polokwane game - if they
got the chance - wouldn’t necessarily be quaking about entertaining the
new-look Bulls in their own terrain, although they will probably be only
too aware that going to Loftus ought to be as taxing an occasion as
I would suggest, though, that South African rivals, mindful
of how tight, uncompromising and violent local derbies can be, may just
be fearing the Bulls’ “regroup” is happening at a greater rate of knots
than they anticipated ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing