Bulls won't get excited

2012-02-13 10:29
Frans Ludeke (Gallo)

Brenden Nel - SuperSport

Johannesburg - While Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke was well-pleased with his team’s 39-16 pre-season demolition of the Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday, it was more than understandable that he wasn’t going to get over-excited at the victory.

It was, after all, a warm-up game and as dominant as the Bulls were, they certainly haven’t earned any points for their efforts.

Instead, it was a welcome confirmation for the coaching staff that they are on the right track, and an important signal for those out there watching, that the Bulls are far from a spent force.

The hit-out in Polokwane did more than answer a few questions. It showed that without a Matfield and Du Preez, the Bulls are more than capable of controlling and dominating a game.

It showed that while they were rusty, they have loads of strikepower when needed and while they had lost half an international pack (close to a full one if you count the withdrawals before the game), they still had enough muscle and grunt to subdue their opposition.

The Bulls answered at least one question in the match – confirming they wouldn’t be moving away from their strengths of a strong pack and good halfback pairing. But in the second half, the shuffles in the backline gave them a number of potential options that could come in quite handy in the coming months.

You could hardly blame them at times for not varying things too much. The Cheetahs were allowed to camp offside for much of the first half, and with the strict interpretation of the breakdown by referee Jaco Peyper, it seemed almost as if carrying the ball was a liability. Time and again the attacking team was penalised, either for going off their feet, or for sealing the ball off in the ruck. If this is to be the trend of Super Rugby in 2012, the Bulls much-maligned aerial game may make a comeback to Super Rugby.

Still, there were more than enough ticks in boxes to make Ludeke and co happy, but just as much work to do.

At least four tries were butchered in the first half, mainly due to wrong options as the Bulls enjoyed more than their fair share of possession. At halfback too, Francois Hougaard’s return to the position was not his best match in a Bulls jersey.

At times Hougi was laboured, hesitant and took the wrong option, but then showed it all when he found a blindside break that led to the first try.

There aren’t too many concerns about his form though, given that this was the first outing on the park for the Bok gamebreaker, but it will continue the debate about whether his best position is wing or halfback, as the extra space on the outside certainly has a way of accentuating his danger on attack.

While Ludeke spoke about looking at combinations, it was clear that the day went very much better than he had expected. The impression made by Francois Venter and CJ Stander in standing in for Wynand Olivier and Pierre Spies respectively speaks volumes about the depth in the squad, while Chiliboy Ralepelle’s contribution on the field as captain was very much leading from the front.

New acquisition Johann Sadie didn’t quite get the space he deserves, but was solid nonetheless, while JJ Engelbecht made an immediate impression with some tough defence and slotting into the backline like a charm.

The Bulls this year will rely very much on their tried and tested formula, but showed enough width and space in Polokwane to remind everyone that they will be a factor this season.

On the one hand Ludeke is extremely pleased with the performance, but the reality that the competition is a marathon and not a sprint certainly plays a bigger factor here.

For that reason Ludeke was measured in his praise, knowing that while everything went well on the weekend, the massive tests are still up ahead.

At least now the Bulls know they have some firepower to face them with.

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