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