Bulls’ duck: Stormers breathe again

    2016-05-06 18:30

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - A miserly two penalties to show for their troubles on the scoreboard ... and zero log points.

    That was the spartan return for the Bulls as their record in Canberra also only worsened to one win from 10 matches against the Brumbies, courtesy of a disappointing 23-6 Vodacom Super Rugby defeat on Friday.

    It’s not as though the apocalypse has arrived for Nollis Marais’s charges, as this was their first reverse in eight matches since the round-one loss to the Stormers at Newlands back on February 27, so you could argue that they were due to taste one.

    But it did rather abruptly erase the glow from their Aussie tour-opening thrashing of the Western Force, leading SuperSport studio expert and former Springbok wing Stefan Terblanche to submit: “This was a step backwards (from Perth) … was their win in that game more of a statement of Force weakness than their own strength?”

    Maybe the truest answer to that question will come next Saturday, when the Bulls close their trip off with the challenge of the Waratahs in Sydney and will need to be significantly more vigorous, urgent and consistently switched-on than they were at GIO Stadium.

    Terblanche got to at least one of the roots of the problem in his post-game analysis: “(The Bulls) conceded 14 penalties and that is a big number … it’s hard to play like that and earn momentum.”

    Meanwhile co-pundit Warren Brosnihan, another former Bok who spent some time in the Bulls fold, lamented: “They were sitting on their feet the whole game rather than getting on their toes.”

    In a development that hardly bodes well for a fleet-footed turnaround against the Waratahs in a few days’ time, the visitors were forced to make some 124 tackles to the Brumbies’ 55, and only commanded around a third of possession.

    They were harshly treated, it seemed, in some perceived breakdown and tackle transgressions by New Zealand referee Ben O’Keeffe, but so seldom dominated the game anyway that it is hard to imagine kinder treatment from officialdom would have got them significantly closer on the scoreboard, let alone actually won.

    It was a shame that they could not earn a better share of possession, given that on rare opportunities to run the ball – mostly from pretty deep – Bulls backliners like Jan Serfontein and SP Marais looked full of appetite, although the former’s defence lapsed in the lead-up to Nigel Ah Wong’s try from an in-field snipe and Marais horribly knocked a ball on in one frustrating instance as the Bulls tried to keep the “pill”.

    The result would hardly have been unwelcome to the Stormers, still smarting from their damaging, late home defeat to the ‘Tahs and on a bye this weekend.

    It means that the Africa Conference 1 leaders stay one point clear of their northern compatriots on 29 after nine games each and six to go in ordinary season.

    They are also briefly in action out of the country next weekend, although playing the Sunwolves in Singapore seems an easier undertaking than the Bulls’ closing tour task in Sydney; you might see the Capetonians open up a more significant lead in the group again.

    Should that occur, it would be an important buffer for Robbie Fleck’s troops because in the very next round, the Bulls and Stormers square up in a potentially pivotal derby at Loftus (May 21).

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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