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Bulls better, but not at best


In certain respects, it might have been better if the Bulls had simply repeated their Timaru horror show last week and we could all have begun to suspect that there must be unrest of some sort in the champions’ camp.

Rob Houwing writes for Sports24 that events in Brisbane on Saturday, where the once-mighty Bulls were beaten once more — 39-30 by the delightfully free-spirited and inventive Reds – did very little to suggest that disharmony is poisoning their flickering Super Rugby campaign.

For the one thing Victor Matfield’s side did appear to win back in Queensland was their spirit, so glaringly absent for large tracts of their humiliation at the hands of the Crusaders.

They got stuck in with much more of the bodies-on-line relish you could once virtually take for granted, and never allowed their heads to drop despite being on the back foot, both in field position and scoreboard terms, for the bulk of the pulsating contest.

Such was their grim spirit of no-surrender, in fact, that a determined late charge even suggested the possibility of not just one but two bonus points in defeat, as a fourth try and simultaneous prospect of ending within seven points was “on” until a knock-on (admittedly fairly deep in their own half) and the siren put paid to that hope.

There had been occasions, too, where the Reds benefited materially from some dubious refereeing calls against the embattled touring outfit.

Nevertheless, ardent Bulls fans and South African enthusiasts more broadly would be deluding themselves considerably if they felt the troops from Pretoria deserved even parity, let alone a much-needed win, from this fixture.

The harsh truth was that, using the full 80 minutes as the yardstick, James Horwill and company, on the hottest streak for this Australian franchise since the halcyon days of Timmy Horan, pretty much trampled the Bulls with their new-age thrust despite their opponents’ ceaseless courage.

They scored six tries to three and that tally read 6-2 until Bjorn Basson’s second personal visit across the whitewash in the 78th minute, when perhaps some hint of long-haul travel fatigue was finally beginning to envelope the Reds, whose task was largely done and dusted anyway.

And although it would be cruel to summarily pooh-pooh the Bulls wing’s first try just before half-time, when he raced up to pinch a kick-off from the halfway mark immediately after a Reds touchdown of their own and waltzed clean through the disbelieving defence, it was all about marvellous solo opportunism and came as a bolt from the blue and welcome bonus for the seemingly heavy-breathing (at that point) South Africans.

It was enough, all the same, to keep the halftime damage to a four-point advantage in favour of the Reds and then the Bulls also made liberal, freshening use of their bench early in the second period (as many as four changes took place at the same time in the 50th minute) to ensure that they never quite gave up the ghost in this match despite the tide largely forcing them backwards.

Whilst the home outfit turned on the charm quite dazzlingly at times – Quade Cooper is eclipsing even New Zealand’s finest Dan Carter at present for flyhalf sorcery and pure, outrageous cheek – protracted forays toward the Reds’ own line were few and far between from the Bulls.

Their best moment was in the 69th minute when Danie Rossouw (all too belatedly on the park for the ineffectual Bakkies Botha) rounded off a little stint of classic, concerted Bulls mauling and recycling.

If big second-rower Botha was one of many senior Springboks South Africa-wide to continue to look alarmingly innocuous this season for the 50 minutes he had, at least a few others — like Wynand Olivier, Morne Steyn, Pierre Spies and Matfield himself – were better than they were in Timaru … although that is obviously an observation coming off a low base.

At the end of the day, though, the Bulls got reasonably close on the board primarily because of Steyn’s near-faultless place-kicking, contrasted with Cooper’s erratic showing in this department at the other end which would otherwise have powered the Reds into the forties.

Brave and improved, but still palpably not good enough: that has got to be a worry for Frans Ludeke and the rest of the Bulls coaching hierarchy.

No wonder Matfield conceded afterwards, in terms of the possibility of retaining their title from a current overall log position of eighth and 14 points shy of the Crusaders and Reds: “It will be very hard from here.”

As he added, only beating the Western Force on the Perth stopover on the way home next weekend can keep some oxygen in their campaign.

Victor wants to crash the party


Decorated skipper Victor Matfield is urging the revamped Bulls to turn party-crashers tomorrow night so his barren streak at Suncorp Stadium ends before retirement.

Jim Tucker writes in The Couriermail that this feature clash against the Reds will be the South African World Cup champion’s final outing in Brisbane and never has he needed to lead the way more.

The Bulls are riding an indifferent 4-3 win-loss record into this match and have made several changes to re-energise the defence of their Super Rugby title.

“We know Brisbane is always a tough place to win and that we are under pressure,” the 105-Test lineout king said.

“I have won only once here (in 2004 at Ballymore) with the Bulls or Springboks but this is a good weekend to improve that.”

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is wary of just that motivation and spark of fresh enthusiasm within the Bulls.

McKenzie has made just a single change to the starting side, reinstating Wallaby Saia Faingaa for last-start standout James Hanson.

“James is a player on the rise but Saia is an experienced Wallaby who has been in good form,” McKenzie said.

“We’re lucky to have two impact players doing well for us because both are integral at different stages of the match.”

Flanker Beau Robinson was rested from Wednesday’s training session because of a cold but was back with squad mates yesterday.

Mike Harris has retained his place in the centres with McKenzie again talking up the variety he offers as a second playmaker. It was a largely invisible role to many because flyhalf Quade Cooper ran the show in Cape Town during last weekend’s win over the Stormers.

Versatile back Ben Lucas has been returned to the bench after missing the two-game South African tour with a groin injury.

The presence of Will Chambers on the bench is another positive pointer that he is ready to be re-injected. He played a handful of minutes in Cape Town but he offers the best balance to the backline if he can be given time at outside centre.

Reds team (from fullback): Luke Morahan, Rod Davies, Anthony Faingaa, Mike Harris, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, Beau Robinson, Radike Samo, James Horwill (c), Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Saia Faingaa, Ben Daley.

Reserves: James Hanson, Greg Holmes, Adam Wallace-Harrison, Liam Gill, Leroy Houston, Ben Lucas, Will Chambers.

Reds getting cocky??


Queensland rugby’s marketing boffins have needlessly fired up the Bulls by promoting tonight’s clash as a “slaughter” even though the South Africans’ own bragging rights over the Reds in every trophy department.

Jim Tucker writes for The Couriermail that the “Watch Us Slaughter The Bulls” pitch on the QRU’s official website and advertising material is a bizarre show of cockiness ahead of the Suncorp Stadium kick-off.

It doesn’t compute when the Reds were mere seven-point victors a year ago and will still carry the shame of a 92-3 loss to the Bulls in 2007 when rugby is played 100 years from now.

Bulls captain Victor Matfield should detour by the QRU corporate box tonight and slip a simple message under the door: “How many Super Rugby titles have you won?”

The Bulls are the three-time champions (2007 and 2009-10) that the Reds dream of becoming while Matfield, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez, Bakkies Botha and Wynand Olivier all swigged from the World Cup with South Africa in 2007.

Such a rev-up is not the style of Reds coach Ewen McKenzie or his players who have the utmost respect for Matfield and his team.

“You can separate marketing jargon from our team focus,” McKenzie said.

“We know we have to be at the top of our game because the Bulls will be motivated without any slogan.

“The Bulls have injected some young guys beside experienced Springboks and there will be a fresh spark of enthusiasm so no way is complacency an issue.”

QRU chief executive Jim Carmichael was unapologetic for the clumsy marketing spin to the game.

“If people are precious about the wording, I’d be disappointed. It’s a fun play on words to get the excitement up and build the crowd which all codes do,” Carmichael said.

“It’s a message about trying to beat them, not being arrogant.”

It’s not the first time the Bulls have been on the receiving end of a QRU promo. In 2002, the QRU hatched an idea to shout everyone in the ground at Ballymore a beer if the Reds racked up 50 points against a Bulls team that didn’t win a game that year.

The Reds ran rampant 48-12 but the QRU was savvy enough to pull out of the show of disrespect even though a loaded XXXX beer truck did arrive on a training day.

Using the speed of finishers Digby Ioane, Luke Morahan and Rod Davies will be some part of the Reds’ game plan tonight. Just as important will be Ioane surging on to an inside pass from Quade Cooper in midfield and the pack giving the backs room.

Bulls hold on to their talent


It’s not all bad news in Bulls country at the moment, as the Bulls have managed to hold on to three future stars according to Brenden Nel from SuperSport

Cheetahs have their captain back


They might have lost stand-in captain, Adriaan Strauss, to a broken hand, but the Cheetahs received a massive boost ahead of this weekend’s clash with the Bulls as Juan Smith was declared fit to lead the side.

Bulls select Chiliboy at hooker


Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke included Chiliboy Ralepelle at hooker for his team’s second match of Super Rugby, against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday.

Ton up for Du Preez


Vodacom Bulls scrumhalf, Fourie du Preez, describes his pending achievement of 100 Super Rugby matches for the Bulls as a ‘massive honour and milestone”.

Lions target Bakkies signature


It has been a rumour that has surfaced in recent days, and although everyone will deny it, it seems to be true.

Bulls sign Basson


The Vodacom Blue Bulls have made a massive coup by signing Griquas and Springbok winger Bjorn Basson to join them from November 1.

Currie Cup round up, Round 1


The 2010 Absa Currie Cup kicked off to an exciting start after 26 tries were scored in the opening weekend of South Africa’s premier domestic rugby competition.

Bulls sign WP scrummy


The Vodacom Blue Bulls have signed promising young scrumhalf Dustin Jinka from Western Province for the Absa Currie Cup season.

Hougaard ready for Bok call-up


Francois Hougaard is fit and ready to join the Springboks on their tour to New Zealand.

Wannenburg off to Ulster


The Bulls’ most experienced Super 14 player, Pedrie Wannenburg, will continue his rugby career with Ulster.

Bulls face Vic/Fourie void


It may be a tad early to suggest it, but the biggest threat to the Bulls’ domination of South African rugby could be the successors to the captaincy duo of Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.

Stormers cheated out of fair contest


I KNOW northern and southern hemisphere rugby is played to different laws, but I never knew that the northern and southern discrepancy applied to South African rugby.

Bulls 25, Stormers 17 – S14 Final


After 15 weeks of planning, plotting and playing it comes down to this: An 80-minute resolute and unwavering arm-wrestle for the most prized possession outside of the Test arena.

A tale of two Boks


I guess it would be hard to describe to the southern tribe how great Orlando Stadium was when the Bulls managed, for a second year in a row, to convincingly beat the Crusaders in the Super 14 semi-finals.

Super 14 Final sold out – confirmed


For those wishing that some season ticket holders will surrender their right on tickets and thus be made available to the public – there is some bad news.  The Blue Bulls Company confirmed that every last ticket has been sold for the final.

Focus a concern for Bok debutants


It is a strange and arguably not ideal dynamic … three rugby players playing probably the two biggest games of their lives, in different jerseys, within the space of a week.

No changes to Stormers XV


Allister Coetzee stuck with the team that won the semi-final last week to take on the Bulls in the all-South African Super 14 final in Soweto this Saturday.

Bookies backing Bulls


South African bookmakers are backing the Bulls to win their third Super 14 final against the Stormers in Soweto on Saturday.

Bulls happy with ref for final


Top South African referee Craig Joubert has been rewarded with his first Vodacom Super 14 final, and the Bulls, of all people are rather happy with this.

Stats mean nothing – Ludeke


Bulls coach Frans Ludeke believes the fact that this weekend’s Vodacom Super 14 final pits the best defence against the best attack in the competition means little when the sides take the field on Saturday.

Super 14 sold out!


Tickets to the Super 14 final at Orlando Stadium in Soweto at the weekend sold out within minutes on Tuesday morning.

Ticket arrangements for Super Final


The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd would like to announce that the tickets for the Vodacom Super 14 final at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on 29 May 2010 at 17:00 will be available on 25 May 2010. The cost per ticket will be R 350.

Rugby order has been restored


Order in the rugby world has been restored, and thank goodness for that!

Vuvuzela’s versus Stormers


Will the Stormers also flounder when they face the Vuvuzela-onslaught at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Saturday?

Habana to meet his match


No-one is happier than Gerhard van den Heever that the Bulls are playing the Stormers in the Super 14 final at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Saturday.

Power shift in SA Rugby?


The Stormers are ready to make more history and swing the balance of power in South African rugby their way at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Saturday.

Bulls 39, Crusaders 24 Semi-final 1


This is the type of occasion that could become a Hollywood blockbuster one day. Yes, it is another historical occasion as the Bulls become the first team to take a major rugby game into a predominantly black township.

Make us proud boys!


What could be better than a double Super 14-semi weekend in South Africa?  An all South Africa final in Soweto of course!

Tutu’s blood is blue


Archbishop Desmond Tutu says the decision by the Bulls to play its Super 14 rugby semifinal in Soweto is the “most important development in the sport since the Springboks won the World Cup in 1995”.

Bulls have the tougher game – Joost


The big weekend of the long-awaited Super 14 semifinals is here. Two home semifinals is what we wanted, now who wants the final and the cup the most?

Bulls secures Potgieter till 2013


Bulls loose forward, Dewald Potgieter, has extended his contract with the side till 2013.

Transport arrangements for Bulls semi


For those making their way to Orlando Stadium this weekend, here are the arrangements!

Additional Bulls tickets made available


Additional tickets will be released to Computicket today during the course of the day, 19 May 2010, due to the season ticket holders not taking up their tickets.

Jaco in for Bulls


The Vodacom Bulls will face the Crusaders in Saturday’s semi-final of the Super 14 in Orlando Stadium with their most experienced team yet.

Semi-final ticket arrangements


For those looking to attend, here are the details for tickets to both semi’s.

Forget the Bulls, look at the Chiefs!


JJ Harmse takes a tongue-in-cheek view over the media storm that surrounded the Bulls decision to pick their B-team for their final round-robin match.

Bulls plan may backfire


Defending champions the Bulls added a note of intrigue to the final round of rugby’s Super 14 by making 14 changes for their top-of-the-table match against the Stormers, possibly handing a win to their hard-pressed South African compatriots.

Bakkies to lead Bulls second stringers


Springbok lock Bakkies Botha will captain a side for the first time in 12 years when he leads the Bulls in their Super 14 match against the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.

Sireli axed from Stormers team


Sireli Naqelevuki was dropped from the match-day 22 completely when Allister Coetzee named his team to take on the Bulls.

Hougaard’s try was legal


The ball was in play when the final hooter sounded when the Bulls went left. Bandise Maku of the Bulls, as he was tackled by Zac Guildford passed the ball to François Hougaard who scored the try that won the match against the Crusaders – the try that defeated the Crusaders (35-40) in Super 14 action in Pretoria on Friday night.

Blow to Tahs as Bulls set to rest key players


It reeks of a South African stitch-up in the Super 14. With one round to go, the integrity of rugby’s premier provincial competition could be compromised with tournament leaders, the Bulls, set to field a second-string team against the Stormers in the top-of-the-table clash in Cape Town.

Kaplan to ref Stormers/Bulls


South Africa’s top referee, Jonathan Kaplan, will referee the Stormers v Bulls Super 14 clash at Newlands on Saturday.

Bulls confirm resting players – De Wet Barry surpise inclusion?


Bulls captain Victor Matfield confirmed through Twitter that they will rest some key players for this weekend’s clash against the Stormers at Newlands.

Bulls to rest stars?


The  Bulls look set to rest a number of key players from Saturday’s Super14 match against the Stormers.

Pakslae could have played 100 tests


Victor Matfield believes he has the best of both worlds to be able to play with Danie Rossouw and Bakkies Botha.

Bulls change two for Saders


Danie Rossouw will replace Bakkies Botha in the Vodacom Bulls team for their match against the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld on Friday and will earn his 100th Super Rugby cap in the process.

Plum backs all SA Super Final


John Plumtree expects the Bulls and Stormers to contest this year’s Super 14 final.