Bulls show flashes of old glory

March 2, 2014
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Three-times champions the Bulls have remembered, to their pleasure, that there is no place quite like home.

Forced to begin their 2014 campaign with successive away derbies, in Durban and Bloemfontein, and emerging with a solitary losing bonus point to show for their troubles, their return to Loftus on Saturday was marked by a comfortable victory over early domestic pace-setters the Lions.

It was no vintage performance, and this regrouping team remains well less formidable on paper than the class of three or four years back.

But it also the third time on the trot, as acting captain Flip van der Merwe pointed out immediately afterwards, that “bad weather has followed us around” … and for purpose and energy in ceaseless drizzle there were at least fledgling signs of a good moon rising again over Pretoria.

Conveniently, as they continue their quest to make up ground from their rocky start, Loftus will remain their stamping ground for a few more weeks until they embark on their overseas leg: they entertain the unpredictable Blues next Saturday, then enjoy a bye before the Sharks arrive for the quick return fixture between the sides and champions the Chiefs follow.

It is true that the Bulls have managed only two tries from their three starts this year, but the unpleasant elements have played a reasonably big part in that.

And the one they registered against the Lions — on an evening otherwise dominated by the kicking proficiency of flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter — harked back a bit to the times when their hardened, Springbok-laden pack would subdue their rival eight and then the outside backs come handsomely into the picture on the fast Highveld surface with some deft use of the width of the pitch.

On this occasion Jan Serfontein romped over after slick lead-up yards and a well-timed off-load from Bjorn Basson.

It seemed evidence that the Bulls are coming around to the fact that a game-plan too heavily geared around box kicking and high bombs won’t necessarily suit their current crop of players.

Apart from his charge-down blemish, the renewed spirit of enterprise was promisingly embraced by scrumhalf Francois Hougaard who looked much more like his old, effervescent and instinctive self.

Much further south in the country, meanwhile, the Stormers continue to provide significantly more questions than they do answers, even if they got their campaign up — though not exactly “running” — by grinding out a disjointed, one-point triumph over the Hurricanes.

Although the decisive cricket Test across the railway line was always going to be an unusually strong weekend counter-attraction for the local sports-watching consumer, it was instructive that only some 31,000 turned out – that was the official figure, and it somehow seemed less than that – for the 2014 Newlands opener by Jean de Villiers’s side.

Ordinarily you would expect far fewer empty seats than that for the first home assignment at what is traditionally one of the best-attended venues in Super Rugby.

The faithful were restless and distracted, too, for major chunks of a mediocre game, at least until the last few minutes when the Stormers, to their credit, showed that they do have a pulse by coming from behind to nick the spoils and De Villiers made wise decisions over how to treat penalties at tricky moments time-wise.

Although you don’t want to underplay their renowned excellence at it, it was also educative that their lone, game-turning try came via their old attacking sanctuary: the rumbling maul off a lineout.

Too few other ways of getting past opponents’ defences are apparent, although Damian de Allende fizzed with intent at inside centre and there were flashes of inspiration from both wings, Gio Aplon and young Kobus van Wyk.

The optimistic view would be that out of such a barren landscape can grow surprising, fresh seeds of something, but there was still very little in the quality of the performance to suggest that their imminent “roster from hell” abroad will produce any notable harvest.

Simply because of their known resilience in Australasia and willingness to embrace foreign climes, I have a hunch the Stormers will grind out at least one win – though don’t ask me which scalp they will bag! – from the four games and return home still believing that they can do just about enough catch-up to sneak into the six-team finals series.

South African wins in Christchurch hardly fall from the trees, yet an argument could be made for the Crusaders being vulnerable in the Stormers’ first tour clash on Saturday as they are nought from two.

Unfortunately, the ‘Saders have a reputation anyway as slow starters and the pressing need to get on the board in win terms may instead prove a strong, irresistible motivator against the Capetonians.

As for the Cheetahs, their first game overseas against the Rebels on Friday was barely short of wretched, as they allowed the limited Melbourne Rebels to more or less trample them in a lethargic display.

Their tour only gets harder, and the fact that they have slipped to one win from three starts seems to bear out a suspicion that they punched admirably above their weight last season and may see a correction to more modest levels in 2014.

As things stand, and even at this early point, Sharks fans may well be smugly believing it will take a near miracle for any other domestic outfit to challenge their mantle as likeliest conference table-toppers and best hopes for the overall glory.

Next week’s fixtures (home teams first, all times SA):

Friday: Hurricanes v Brumbies, 08:35; Reds v Cheetahs, 10:40. Saturday: Crusaders v Stormers, 08:35; Force v Rebels, 10:40; Bulls v Blues, 17:05; Sharks v Lions, 19:10. Byes: Chiefs, Waratahs, Highlanders.

Source: Sport24

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10 Comments

  1. avatar Cheetah Glory says:
    March 2nd, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Nope these 3 teams are all going to pump the Bulls I am afraid. I just cannot see them beating the Blues first up.

    Neither Sharks nor Chiefs.

  2. avatar Timeo says:
    March 2nd, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    Perhaps I watched a different game but I can swore the Bulls kicked just as much, if not more, than the previous two weeks.
    They just executed a bit better and were helped by opponents dropping balls and giving away penalties.

    As for a need to change the game-plan: If the current crop of players are not suited for their old “simple” game-plan, how on earth will they cope with a complicated one?

  3. avatar Cheetah Glory says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 12:02 am

    @Timeo:

    Lions did not build a lead right from start. For me that was telling. Put themselves in quandary and gave the opposition life-line

  4. avatar Timeo says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 1:44 am

    Can some one answer this law question:

    The ball is kicked and remains inside the plain of touch.
    A player standing with his feet in-touch attempts to catch the ball but instead drops it backwards to bounce inside the playing field.

    The ball is deemed in-touch, because it was touched by a player in-touch.

    Who gets the throw-in at the line-out?

  5. avatar Jacques(Bunny) says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 10:03 am

    @Timeo: As I have it is still out on the full and if it was a penalty the ball goes to the kicking team and if not and outside 22 the ball goes to the receiving team.

  6. avatar Aldo says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Still a bit early to say glimpses of the championship team, but the Bulls did look a lot better with both Matfield and a proper flyhalf on the field.

    To me it is simple, yes we finally won one, but then the weather suited us for one, but the Lions also played like the Lions of old and not the team that recently impressed. Also it was at Loftus. Let’s hold of the victory parade till we see how we perform against the Blues this weekend.

  7. avatar biltongbek says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    The Bulls actually scored their only try from a backline move involving some astute play by Serfontein, JJ Engelbrecht and Basson, their mauls provided them with nothing.

    Their kick and chase game worked against a Lions team that were poor under the high ball, and physically battered at the breakdowns.

    Again I open myself up to the “kick and chase” gang, but this will not work against teams that can handle their physicality and play 3 fullbacks like many of the NZ franchises do.

  8. avatar Morné says:
    March 3rd, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    @Timeo:

    Depends on the situation.

    Fact is ball is in touch, who gets the throw-in and from where depends whether it was a normal field kick inside or outside of the 22 or whether it was a penalty. I suspect it was not a penalty because the receiving player would have tried to to keep it in field then.

  9. avatar Timeo says:
    March 4th, 2014 at 3:47 am

    @Morné:

    The case was a normal kick by the Sharks from outside their 22. The ‘Canes player stood outside the field and tried to catch it but did not, the ball bounced off his hands. The AR awarded the LO to the ‘Canes where the kick was taken.

    To me the laws are a bit contradictory.

    Under definitions they state:
    Law:
    The ball is in touch when it is not being carried by a player and it touches the touchline or anything or anyone on or beyond the touchline.

    –So according to this the ball was in touch, but it’s not clear who took it into touch. The player standing outside or the player who touched it before him?

    Law:
    The ball is in touch if a player catches the ball and that player has a foot on the touchline or the ground beyond the touchline. If a player has one foot in the field of play and one foot in touch and holds the ball, the ball is in touch.

    –But he did not catch it and neither did he pick it up.

    Law:
    A player in touch may kick or knock the ball, but not hold it, provided it has not crossed the plane of the touchline.

    –The ball was inside the plane and he knocked it without catching it. This definition seems to indicate that the ball was not in touch at all.

    Unless I’m missing something specific in the laws, I can see all kinds of ridiculous events happening at rucks and tackles near the touch line where a player outside the field can gain a LO for his team by touching the ball inside the field.

  10. avatar Morné says:
    March 4th, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    @Timeo:

    It is covered by the law you first highlighted. If it touches anything or anyone beyond the touchline. But you mention ‘someone who touched it before him’? I don’t quite understand that statement. I did not see the incident so I can only go on what you tell me.

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