Cape Town – It was mission completed for the Bulls in their 45-7 United Rugby Championship victory over Zebre, said coach Jake White, who is taking the “glass half-full” stance on Friday night’s performance.
The Pretoria side were all over the place in the opening 20-odd minutes at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi in a chilly Parma, with even captain Marcell Coetzee yellow-carded for taking out wing Jacopo Trulla in the air - reducing the Bulls to 14 men for 10 minutes.
And even though that they made numerous handling errors and wasted a couple of attacking lineouts, the fact that they scored six tries and 45 unanswered points – after conceding a try to flyhalf Antonio Rizzi – was enough to satisfy White.
“We had to find our feet in the first 25 minutes, and then we scored 45 points basically from the 25th minute onwards. I thought we scrummed quite well tonight,” White said in the post-match press conference.
“At the back-end of the game there, for all the hard work that we’d put in, I was glad to see guys like Robert (Hunt) and Bismarck (du Plessis) and Simphiwe (Matanzima) scrum so nicely.
“At the beginning, we had a couple of chances that we didn’t finish. But I thought the way we played, generally, I was quite happy with the way we played.
“It’s not an easy fixture to come here. No other side has come here and given them a 50-pointer – not even Munster. So, it was good for us to get a bit of confidence out of that game as well.”
There is a danger, though, that the Bulls will take too much confidence out of the result, as Zebre are bottom-dwellers in the URC with eight consecutive defeats, while they were also missing eight players who are part of the Italy Six Nations squad.
But White felt that it was still a commendable outcome for his team as they managed to stay in the hunt for the playoffs, while the tries from Johan Grobbelaar, Embrose Papier, Marcell Coetzee, Arno Botha, Lionel Mapoe and Kurt-Lee Arendse were a mixture of old-fashioned grind and some sparkling attacking play.
The Bulls moved up to ninth place on the log with 23 points from 10 matches, just behind the SA conference-leading Stormers on points difference, ahead of the Cape side’s clash with Connacht in Galway on Saturday.
“I suppose you look at the glass half-empty or the glass half-full. They only had three guys out, and Benetton have 25 guys out. So they lost three guys, which is a relatively unchanged squad, and Munster are one of the great sides of the URC and didn’t come here and score 45 points,” the Bulls mentor said.
“There are a lot of positives out of this game. We will keep our feet on the ground and have Munster next (on March 12 at Loftus Versfeld). But we needed to stay alive in the comp, and get those five points… As it stands now, we are top of the South African conference, and the other games still have to be played.
“But at least we are still alive, and I guess that’s all you want as a coach: for us to be still alive in the competition.”