A while after the emotions had settled and the magnitude of their victory had sunk in, Bulls’ coach Frans Ludeke could only describe their 23-19 win over the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday as “typical Bulls slow poison”.
Everything about their performance was slow, measured, calculated and well executed but, more than anything, Ludeke was referring to the team keeping to the process.
A month ago, few would have given the Bulls a chance of being among the front runners in the competition after they had sunk to consecutive defeats against the Sharks and Cheetahs.
However, it is the nature of Super Rugby that it can take just one game for a team to turn the corner and, in almost a blink of an eye, the Bulls have turned that corner.
By keeping to the process and never doubting that they would eventually hit their straps the Bulls have turned things around in the past three weeks.
It has been slow and arduous at times but the Bulls will tell you that they needed to go through the growing pains as a team to fully appreciate how special it is to win in this competition. And they have done so in an effective way.
First they brushed the Lions aside in a less than spectacular but effective way and followed with a pleasing effort against the Blues.
Saturday’s performance against the Sharks was not only sweet revenge for their first-round loss but it also announced the Bulls’ title credentials as they ended the Sharks’ four-match unbeaten run.
“It has taken us a while to get here, but we always believed in the process. The only way I can describe it is that it was typical Bulls slow poison,” said Ludeke.
“We were patient during the game and never got overwhelmed by what they were doing. It was important for us to stick to the process at all times.
“It is what has got us here after a bad start and it is what has made it possible for us to beat the Sharks,” he said.
As much as the Bulls’ valiant fightback from a poor start this season can be attributed to all the players in their squad, the experience and acumen of former Springbok lock Victor Matfield has helped in their resurgence.
Matfield returned on Saturday to lead the Bulls for the first time since his retirement two years ago and while he may not be as flamboyant with ball in hand, his leadership and understanding of the game certainly helped the Bulls’ cause.
“The way the team played is credit to Victor. We needed a special effort and it was exactly that, and the work rate was also special,” Ludeke said of Matfield’s contribution.
He said the win against the Sharks was a good reward for the hard work they had put in.
“We played against a side that was on top of their game as well. Lots of things we have worked through in the past few weeks came off for us.
“Victor made a few smart adjustments to our attack during the week and it paid off for us,” said Ludeke.
Matfield praised his team for showing commitment to the cause and playing as a unit, traits they will need again this week ahead of their clash against the Chiefs, the defending champions, who also lost their first game of the season – to the Western Force – on Saturday.
“For me, what stood out are the things we planned,” said Matfield. “From the set-piece we went wide twice from a line-out. We scored the second time and the first (time) we made a lot of metres.
“Things we planned in the week came through in the game. We had that theme the whole week and there was a lot of talk about how good they are and the number of stars they have in their team.
“We wanted to go out there as a unit and play for each other and make each other strong. The guys stood out, showed a lot of commitment and played for each other,” said Matfield.
The Bulls’ efforts leave them in sixth place on the combined log, but it is the five points that separate them from the log-leading Sharks that shows just how far they have come so far this season. - The Star