Cape Town — Blue Bulls captain Lizo Gqoboka genuinely believes that his team can be competitive in the Currie Cup, and was impressed by how they “put their bodies on the line” despite a 32-7 bonus-point loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday night.
The defeat was the 10th in 12 matches across all competitions for the Pretoria franchise, and the Bulls URC team will also face a tough task in Saturday night’s clash with Ulster in Belfast (9.35pm SA time kick-off).
Gqoboka’s team lacked the necessary cohesion and rhythm to seriously challenge a strong Cheetahs outfit who scored five tries and used the game as preparation for next Saturday’s Challenge Cup play-off against French giants Toulon in France.
But a green-looking Bulls side showed some fighting spirit and got stuck in on defence against their more illustrious opponents, with the likes of young lock Reinhardt Ludwig, hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels, prop Robert Hunt and fullback Franco Knoetze prominent.
There were a few wasted driving mauls off attacking lineouts inside the Cheetahs 22, while the backline battled to fire in trying to play on the back foot, with the forwards outmuscled in the physical stakes.
But loosehead prop Gqoboka feels that the Bulls showed some positive signs. “We saw in the first half how we defended with these young boys really putting their bodies on the line. It was really a good start, but you could see that the match sharpness was not there because the guys haven’t played a lot of rugby — including myself,” said the front-ranker, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Friday.
“We can only get better from here, and at times, I thought we were really good at stopping their mauls, and our scrum was really good as well.
“I thought we just let ourselves down on the breakdown, where we were not reacting quickly enough. But there were some good signs as well, and we can definitely grow from this.
“It’s just match fitness and match sharpness. The more you play, the more your decision-making gets better — you don’t get tired quickly. And it’s young guys … Some of the guys put their hands up, and we can really get better from this.
“The guys are positive … there is definitely belief that we are going to turn this thing around. I’ve seen hunger from these guys — the way they train, and some good moments in the game today. We fought until the end and didn’t give up once in the game, even though we were well behind in terms of the scoreboard.”
Next up are the Griffons in Welkom next Friday (3pm kick-off), which is an ideal opportunity to end their three-match losing streak in the Currie Cup.
Bulls head coach Edgar Marutlulle added that his out-gunned team displayed real character against a Cheetahs side that included seasoned campaigners such as Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar, Robert Ebersohn, Oupa Mohoje and Schalk Ferreira.
“I am really proud of some of these players. When we split the group from the URC and EPCR team to give some of these debutants and other players their first games in a couple of months – guys like Muller Uys, Lizo Gqoboka have come back and played their first games,” the former hooker said.
“That Franco Knoetze at 15 was really exceptional in his first game at 20 years old. Adriaan Joubert and Juan van der Westhuizen were club players, Reinhardt Ludwig (is a young lock) and Jan-Hendrik (Wessels) are growing from week to week.
“A really valiant effort in some areas of the game, and we can only get better from where we are now. There has already been a massive improvement from three weeks ago from the Pumas game against an even stronger opponent like the Cheetahs.
“More time in the saddle, more game-time, more cohesion, more unit time from a coaching staff point of view as well … The more time we spend together, the better the team will get.”
Cheetahs 32 – Tries: Gideon van der Merwe, Marnus van der Merwe, Munier Hartzenberg, Siba Qoma, Cohen Jasper. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (2). Penalty: Pienaar (1).
Blue Bulls 7 – Try: Jan-Hendrik Wessels. Conversion: Franco Knoetze (1).