The relief was etched on the faces of Bulls coach Frans Ludeke and captain Flip van der Merwe after recording their first win of the season against the Lions on Saturday night, but their celebrations were muted,almost in recognition of the long road that lies ahead.
The Bulls may have broken their two-match losing streak in this year’s Super Rugby competition with a measured and uncomplicated 25-17 win over the Lions, but even by their own admission there is still a lot of hard work to do before claiming to be anything near title contenders.
This was a win the Bulls certainly needed, especially ahead of tough home games against the Blues, Sharks and defending champions, the Chiefs, before they head on a month-long tour of New Zealand and Australia.
While far from being the prettiest game of rugby to watch, there were moments in the rain-drenched encounter against the Lions that would have signaled not only the turning of a corner, but that some of that old fight within this Bulls team is still there.
An even more delightful aspect of the Bulls win for Ludeke would have been flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter’s general play and his impressive 20-point haul.
Potgieter replaced the misfiring Louis Fouche at flyhalf last week and the move proved to be extremely rewarding for both the Bulls and Potgieter who had left the Bulls in 2010 after playing second fiddle to Morne Steyn.
The Bulls will need Potgieter going forward in the competition, not only his accurate boot in accumulating points and the occasional up and under, but in unleashing the dangerous Bulls backs that consists of four Springboks.
“What can you say more? He talked with his 80 minutes between the four lines. He was accurate and clinical, so hats off to him. We really needed someone in that position to take control of the game, get us into good positions and converting for us when we are under pressure. It is very satisfying to see him play like that,” said Ludeke.
The glimpses of previous Bulls teams was also evident in the calmness that had prevailed throughout the 80 minutes as the Bulls diligently went about their work, even though they faced the added pressure of fighting the elements as well.
Their scrum work was impressive and they managed to milk a handful of scrum penalties while their lineout work was as impeccable as it had been in the past largely due to the presence of Victor Matfield.
The fact that the Bulls were also able to keep possession, especially at the breakdown, added to their dominance over the Lions on the day and it is all these components of their play that they will need to build on if they are to gain an edge over the high flying Blues on Saturday.
“I think that is the one thing we did well, we started controlling the game like the Bulls of old,” said Van der Merwe.
“We put ourselves in situations in order to be able to score points and we converted. I am very proud of the boys and the way things worked out,” Van der Merwe added.
By their own admission, the reason why the Bulls have been dismal in the past two weeks was due to their inability to handle pressure.
Victory over the Lions clearly has been a valuable one in learning about pressure and how to make it work in your favour, a trait the Bulls will need to remain competitive in these three crucial weeks of their campaign.
“I think our set-pieces against the Sharks and Cheetahs was very good as well. It was just a matter of handling the pressure which you can do when you get some game time. The young players can now see what happened against the Lions that if you keep composed and doing what you have to do, you don’t have to work the magic, the magic will come itself. That is the kind of stuff that makes for a winning team,” said Van der Merwe.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are set to announce the acquisition of former captain Dewald Potgieter and Wimpie van der Walt on short-term contracts this week.
The duo currently play in the Japanese Top League with Potgieter no stranger to Loftus after joining the Bulls from his schooldays in Port Elizabeth.
Potgieter, who currently plays for the Yamaha Jubilo, has already played in 67 Super Rugby games for the Bulls, his last being in last year’s semi-final loss against the Brumbies where he was captain and famously made the three errors in judgment of choosing to go for touch instead of kicking for poles towards the end of that game.
Van der Walt played for the Southern Kings in last year’s Super Rugby competition and now plies his trade for Japanese outfit NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes.
Their contracts are likely to be until the end of the Super Rugby season. - The Star