Cape Town - Three out of three, and two of them on the road.
That was South Africa’s handsome haul in Super Rugby
victories over New Zealand teams this weekend, and something that only seems to
happen with the frequency of sightings from Earth of Halley’s Comet.
It is absurdly early to expect world champion Test team the
All Blacks to be trembling in their boots already about the Springbok challenge
much later in the season, but it was a nice little marker to put down in a
competition that does often have at least some relevance to the international
balance of power in the southern hemisphere.
VIDEO: Blues v Bulls, highlights
South Africans who set their alarm clocks for 05:05 on
Sunday were rewarded with arguably the most satisfying triumph of the three
against New Zealand franchises, as the fast and furious Bulls, wholly
deservedly, upset the Blues 28-21 for a maiden win at Eden Park.
It came pleasurably in the slipstream of the Cheetahs
humbling the Highlanders in Invercargill and then the Stormers edging the
defending champions, the Chiefs, in a ding-dong Newlands encounter.
Given their opponents’ menacing start to this year’s
hostilities, including that 19-point roasting of the Crusaders, and coupled
with the inconvenience of entering this clash soon after the debilitating
west-to-east long haul, the Bulls will be seriously chuffed with the Auckland outcome.
They oozed intent in their pink change strip from start
until pretty close to the finish, when quite understandable some legs and lungs
were starting to go.
But they had a handy, two-score cushion for good parts of
the match, even if it looked ominously as if the Blues might pull the game out
of the fire late on when Rene Ranger’s electric try in the right-hand corner
narrowed the gap to 25-21 with a few minutes to go.
Summoning heroic reserves of energy, however, the Bulls got
back onto the front foot and Morne Steyn’s pinpoint penalty right on the hooter
sealed the triumph.
Slightly less than flawless on the day - he missed a couple
of goalable kicks by his high standards and some of his tactical punts also
went astray - the Bulls flyhalf nevertheless deserves great credit for his own
role in the fine win.
Steyn came out of the pocket to an illuminating extent on a
day when the Bulls wisely mixed up their attacking play deftly, easing back on
their penchant for high bombs (mindful of the absence of injured aerial master
Bjorn Basson) and sometimes putting the ball through the three-quarters’ hands
quite delightfully as they registered three tries to two.
Much of that snap and crackle was down to Steyn’s
distribution, which harked back to his more adventurous days several years ago
and also reminded critics that he is not necessarily the “robot” some perceive
him to be.
It was also refreshing to see someone like Zane Kirchner,
the fullback who is inclined to predictability when in a Springbok jersey, do
things at pace and show a willingness to step and dummy.
The collective aggression and unflagging work-rate of the
Bulls pack played no less critical a role in achieving this conquest.
Their lineout was sure and consistent - a few impressive,
metres-gaining rumbles followed the securing of Bulls’ ball at times - whilst
energetic young Arno Botha and captain Pierre Spies led the charge in the
Spies has been something of a revelation this season in the
full-blooded way he has played, given that a rightful criticism at Test level
is that he sometimes “disappears” for worrying periods.
Certainly the seasoned campaigner has announced in no
uncertain terms that he fancies unseating incumbent Duane Vermeulen from the
Bok No 8 role in 2013; he will always have the edge in athleticism and led one
spectacular long-range breakaway off a scrum which very nearly earned the Bulls
a fourth try and “maximum” haul from the game.
They won’t be crying too much about failure to land the
bonus point, though: remember that this was a tough Australasian tour programme
on paper for the Pretoria-based side, with some people speculating over whether
they would earn even a solitary win from the four obligations.
That’s quickly been blown out of the water ...
Remaining Antipodean tour fixtures for Bulls and Cheetahs:
Bulls: March 16: Crusaders, Christrchurch; March 23: Reds,
Brisbane; March 30: Brumbies, Canberra.
Cheetahs: March 15: Waratahs, Sydney; March 23: Force,
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