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    Bulls’ SA ‘hat-trick’ sends clear signal

    2019-03-10 07:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Still early days, but mark the Bulls down firmly as forceful contenders for the SA conference honours in Super Rugby this year ... and while you shouldn’t whisper it too loudly, perhaps even a bit more than that.

    Certainly the Loftus-based side have made a booming statement after reaching their own quarter mark in the 16-match ordinary season programme, considering their glowing achievements against all three compatriots in the group.

    Although they slipped up on a greasy day in Buenos Aires against other conference outfit the Jaguares in round two, Pote Human’s charges can now claim the scalps of all of the other trio: and by noticeably gaping margins each time.

    The Sharks were simply the latest SA team to feel the weight of resurgence of the three-time former champions on Saturday, leaving Pretoria with tails firmly between their legs in a 37-14 defeat.

    That’s a 23-point margin, and remember that the Stormers were blitzed by 37 points at the very same Loftus on the opening weekend.

    In between, the Bulls won another derby that many would have expected to be tighter, when they drove down the highway to Johannesburg and saw off 2018 losing finalists the Lions by 18 points - again a result showing plenty of daylight between the protagonists on the scoreboard.

    On that basis alone, the blue-jerseyed outfit have established both a mathematical and mental foothold against all other conference comers: they now lead the Sharks by two points at the top of the group and lie second only to the unbeaten Crusaders overall.

    It seems as good a time as any to have a bye - three all-South African affairs in four is a guaranteed recipe for bumps and bruises - and that’s what they’ll enjoy next weekend when the SA roster is fairly thin (the Sharks will also be on an “off” week to nurse their two-game losing-streak wounds).

    Once they come back refreshed in a fortnight, the Bulls will fancy their chances of another triumph as the Chiefs will visit their Highveld stronghold: this is a New Zealand side unusually punch-drunk at this point, having lost all four matches so far and languishing at the bottom of the overall table.

    The latest Bulls showing was generally more industrially-earned than consistently awe-inspiring - most local derbies are - but they were still rich value for their victory and again produced enough moments of attacking zest, often from deep, to fill their long-suffering faithful with renewed hope of a proper renaissance.

    Their players, young and old, work for each other determinedly and as Springbok World Cup-winning flyhalf legend Joel Stransky pointed out in SuperSport commentary, they dominated the “big moments” ... with their grand-dad figure Schalk Brits charismatically to the fore.

    Vanquished Sharks skipper and scrumhalf Louis Schreuder admitted afterwards that his side “didn’t respect the ball” (they had enough of it at times) but promised a “hard look at ourselves (and) a regroup”.

    They made a plethora of elementary errors or disciplinary gaffes and that is ill-advised when you are up against the smooth-striking boot of Handre Pollard, who amassed another big haul of 22 points.

    The Sharks still seem fairly clueless at adapting when their renowned physicality is stopped in its tracks by equally robust characters like Jason Jenkins and Duane Vermeulen, while the Bulls’ yeoman scrummaging effort and the hunger out wide of Jesse Kriel, Rosko Specman and Warrick Gelant also played pivotal roles in the triumph.

    In the earlier SA kick-off, the Lions struck back pleasingly enough this weekend from last week’s home humbling - especially considering coach Swys de Bruin’s gamble on plenty of rookies in his starting XV - by beating the Jaguares 47-39.

    It would have been even more convincing on paper had the hosts not fallen apart organisationally in the last quarter of an hour, when several seniors were yanked off at 47-13 and the Lions even contrived to lose their bonus point because the Argentineans, lacklustre before the break, hauled back the final try count to 7-6.

    But at least for the first hour or so, we got a highly encouraging glimpse of the franchise’s productive development structures - 20-year-old midfield wunderkind Wandisile Simelane buzzed most times that he touched the ball.

    He earned the following tribute from Nick Mallett: “(He) showed his dexterity with his hands ... something we need much more of in South African backline play.”

    Nevertheless, the Lions will need to tighten up in several areas when they entertain Dave Wessels’ unbeaten Melbourne Rebels next Saturday.

    Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):

    Friday, March 15

    Chiefs v Hurricanes - 08:35

    Brumbies v Waratahs - 10:45

    Stormers v Jaguares - 19:10

    Saturday, March 16

    Sunwolves v Reds - 06:15

    Highlanders v Crusaders - 08:35

    Lions v Rebels - 15:05

    Byes: Sharks, Bulls, Blues

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Fixtures

    Saturday, 23 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Stormers, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Crusaders, Sydney Cricket Ground 10:45
    • Sunwolves v Lions, Singapore National Stadium 12:55
    • Bulls v Chiefs, Loftus Versfeld 15:05
    • Sharks v Rebels, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 17:15
    Sunday, 24 March 2019
    • Reds v Brumbies, Suncorp Stadium 07:05
    Friday, 29 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Crusaders, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Sunwolves, McDonald Jones Stadium 10:45

    Logs

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    • Bulls (Q)
    • Lions (wc)
    • Stormers (wc)
    • Sharks (wc)
    • Jaguares

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