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.
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.
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.
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.
23-point margin, and remember that the Stormers were blitzed by 37 points at
the very same Loftus on the opening weekend.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the following tribute from Nick Mallett: “(He) showed his dexterity with his
hands ... something we need much more of in South African backline play.”
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 -
Saturday, March 16
Sunwolves v Reds - 06:15
Highlanders v Crusaders - 08:35
v Rebels - 15:05
Byes: Sharks, Bulls, Blues
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