By Brenden Nel
Christchurch - If there was a moment that needed to confirm that Tim Dlulane has truly been the find of the Bulls' season, then last week against the Stormers he gave it.
After all the hullabaloo about the non-inclusion of highly rated Stormers flanker Luke Watson in the Springbok squad, Dlulane - who also was ignored and perhaps had a greater case for inclusion - knew he had his work cut out for him.
The Bulls flanker knew he would receive a chance to make a difference and early in the first half he got it. Watson tried to break around the fringes and Dlulane was there like a brick wall. He stopped him dead in a massive tackle, drove him back and turned the ball over.
It was a moment that perhaps changed the mindset of the game. It was a moment that rattled the Stormers.
"I know that Luke is a great player and I respect him. But I can only respect him that much. It was like any other guy coming across. I was switched on and I knew I had to tackle forward. The guys gave me a pat on the back and said to each other 'nothing can stop us now'. It was very fulfilling," Dlulane said this week.
The openside flank has waited a while to be accepted at Loftus Versfeld, but now that he is here, there is no stopping him from becoming another Loftus legend. Every week the Bulls enthuse about his abilities. The team doctor talks about how Dlulane knows no pain threshold. The technical advisers rave about his tackle count and the Bulls management tell of what an asset he has become.
Dlulane literally wins every tackle count on a weekly basis now for the Bulls and has the highest workrate in the team.
Dlulane returned to the Bulls from the Pumas after a disastrous eight minutes of Test rugby at the end of 2004. Many saw his selection as a political pawn in a bigger game, and the performance only served to reinforce the belief that Springbok coach Jake White was looking more at numbers than anything else.
When he arrived at the Bulls the team found that although he had the physique, he was lacking in the basics. Dlulane was put on a booster course by the various Bulls coaches in order to ensure that he played Super 14 rugby this year. And while coach Heyneke Meyer received criticism from other parts of the country for his approach, it has ultimately led to Dlulane becoming a better player.
But even at the start of the season he gave away silly penalties, almost costing his side a game against the Highlanders. Dlulane was read the riot act, told to clean up his act and concentrate on his job.
"Like any job you have to find your feet and perhaps the intensity surprised me a bit, and the speed. At that time I just wanted to play and I was a bit overeager. I was a bit stupid. I sat down with the coaches and Heyneke (Meyer) told me to continue playing my game, but just to get the penalty count down. It was a relief that I knew where I stood with the coach," he added.
"It's pleasing, but at the moment I just want to play. It's just me and the ball and how I control myself."