Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Let’s
guard against loudly trumpeting the “new” Bulls too soon.
under fresh management last year also, of course, as John Mitchell plotted them
to a memorable 21-19 Loftus triumph over the strong Hurricanes in their opening
Super Rugby fixture ... only to recede to a 12th-placed overall finish.
they possibly made an even bigger early-doors statement this time, with Pote
Human now masterminding their game-plan, as they utterly ransacked fierce local
rivals the Stormers 40-3 in Pretoria on Saturday for a full house of log
satisfyingly, the Sharks picked up five points as well and looked just as
switched-on for the most part as they breezed past the Sunwolves 45-10 in
sound like a par-for-the-course sort of outcome against perennial strugglers,
but remember that the Japanese franchise earned shock home wins against each of
the Bulls and Stormers in 2018, so Robert du Preez’s charges doing the business
so comfortably represented an encouraging start for the Durban-based team.
But the ease
with which the Bulls, three times past champions, subdued the strife-torn
Capetonians was the dominant South African talking point on Saturday evening.
were delayed in getting to Loftus by a freeway accident, forcing a 20
minute-late start, but whether you want to call Robbie Fleck’s charges road
kill or a train smash, they were clinically taken apart in a four-tries-to-nil
Pollard’s unerring performance off the kicking tee also helped to swell the
scoreboard, and he was the official player of the match.
from a bad call, several team-mates were right up there with him for a
combination of polish and hunger: you could not have grumbled had any of the
electric Rosko Specman (he gave poor Stormers fullback Dillyn Leyds defensive
nightmares in the first quarter), Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel, captain Lood de
Jager or ex-Stormers favourite Duane Vermeulen grabbed the mantle instead.
Vermeulen delivering a thunderous performance at No 8 was an especially bitter
pill for the visitors to swallow, as he tore into several opponents who were
accustomed to having him as a hard-nosed team-mate at varying stages between
2009 and 2015.
the special brand of go-forward for which he has long been famed, and only
reminded of his status as a key cog in the Springbok plans for RWC 2019 later
in the year.
Bulls scrum went backwards a few times on Saturday - offering very, very
fleeting moments for some high-fiving in the Stormers ranks - even in that
department his rich experience came to the fore as he is adept at dealing smartly
with the ball at the base even when his pack is under some pressure.
As much as
they ripped the visiting defence to shreds at times out wide, this thrashing
was also engineered by the Bulls’ eye-catching commitment and organisation on
defence: the Stormers actually had significantly more carries than they did
(apparently 97-70) but more often than not they were unceremoniously bashed
backwards or forced into ponderous, conviction-lacking and lateral attacks from
behind the advantage line that inevitably ended in costly mistakes or turnovers.
afflicted to injuries to some key personnel, the Newlands-based team had a
further setback when leader Siya Kolisi left the park for possible
concussion-related issues during the first half and failed to return although,
in truth, the Springbok captain had been largely anonymous to that point in a
generally outwitted and outmuscled Stormers loose trio.
massively impressive line-out on paper also did not disappoint: the likes of De
Jager and Vermeulen gave the Stormers the yips in that department early on;
they frittered away all of their first five throw-ins before stabilising a bit,
in fairness, later on ... when the horse had long bolted.
outplayed in all facets,” was the uncomfortable SuperSport studio verdict of
former Stormers and Bok stalwart Jean de Villiers afterwards.
Bulls will take huge confidence into their tough trip to Buenos Aires to play
the Jaguares next weekend, it hardly gets any easier for the Stormers as they
entertain the Lions, tournament runners-up in each of the last three seasons.
Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams
first, all kick-offs SA time):
Highlanders v Reds, 08:35. Saturday: Sunwolves v Waratahs, 06:15; Crusaders v
Hurricanes, 08:35; Brumbies v Chiefs, 10:45; Sharks v Blues, 15:05; Stormers v
Lions, 17:15; Jaguares v Bulls, 23:40. Bye: Rebels.
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