A lacklustre first half from the Blue Bulls has many fans calling them out as frauds already. The Stormers were brilliant, as they were last season in the opening game. However Super Rugby remains a marathon and not a sprint. The champions, the Hurricanes opened the season with a 0-2 record and still managed to recover, tweak their game plan sufficiently to win the title.
Now, the Blue Bulls will be aiming for the play-offs this season and this match could have been more beneficial than harmful. They will be playing in a difficult conference and have received a rude awakening. In their first seven games – they have one home game and they need to learn, step up and move on quickly. The Bulls should be fine.
The Good – Players that showed up
The Bulls can take a lot of positives from their opening game. The performances of Travis Ismaiel, Rudy Paige, RG Snyman, Jacques Potgieter, Hanro Liebenberg and the bench were encouraging. Individually they had some promising and dominant performances. The four tries the Bulls scored had a combination of tackle busts, offloads and interlinking between backs and forwards.
The efforts of Hanro and Potgieter proved to be pivotal in defence and on attack as the pair made dominant hits and Hanro in particular breached the gain-line at will. This bodes well for the season. The impact injected by the entire bench in particular will give Nollis a few reasons to smile about.
Bad –Defensive work
The Blue Bulls have started slowly over the years and this was a resemblance of their match against the Lions a few years ago in the Currie Cup, were they started slowly only to hit back in the second half despite losing. The Loftus outfit need to start matches far better, playing catch-up is never ideal especially with Kiwi opponents around the corner.
Conceding five tries in your first game will be disappointing. The Bulls tackled effectively, but their systematic lapses cost them the game. Their defensive work was affected by an ineffective scrum.
The pressure applied at the breakdown was commendable from the Stormers pack with Pieter Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi and Etzebeth combining for several counter-rucks which led to one of the tries on the day. The Bulls’ ball retention was not up to standard, with many players standing off to carry before securing possession. The lapse in concentration after getting back into the game every time – costly. A direct result of the poor start the away side had.
In the long run, he will improve. The general has a lot of pressure on him and he has to get on with the job. Playing with limited territory stems from the Bulls’ limited ‘out of hand’ kicking options. The Bulls looked to Rudy Paige and leaned on Handre Pollard a lot more.
Pollard was evidently rusty, off the mark and at some stages seemed as though the pressure of being the ‘Saviour of SA Rugby’ was weighing heavily on his shoulders. Missing kicks at goal and having kicks charged down saw him have a game to forget. The Bulls back line had several glitches that should be easily fixed when you look at alignment, footwork and being a bit deeper. This should improve the handling. The backs battled to get going and the introduction of Warrick Gelant and Tian Schoeman improved the Bulls to an extent. Pollard needs to rediscover form soon, much is expected from him. The return of Jan Serfontein will aid Pollard in the coming week.
Ugly – Set-piece
The strategy to play off quick-taps and avoid line-outs worked for the Stormers, but it was their dominant pack that exposed the poor Bulls scrum which needs to see the doctor this week. Maybe a quick call to Os du Randt could help. Trevor Nyakane struggled and the big man has continued to struggle at tight head like the Sharks’ Coenie Oosthuizen and Thomas du Toit who are part of the failing experimental switch from the left side of the scrum. To add insult to injury, the Bulls hooker didn’t seem to help Trevor much and the scrum was a source of four penalties for the Stormers and two tries. The scrum needs to be stable and is a platform on attack and defence. The Bulls line out will also need to improve with more pressure set to be on Jaco Visagie who had a few bad throws and struggled in the scrum.