Connacht's Tom Farrell breaks the line against the Bulls. Picture: James Crombie/INPHO/Shutterstock via Backpagepix
Connacht's Tom Farrell breaks the line against the Bulls. Picture: James Crombie/INPHO/Shutterstock via Backpagepix

Bulls have to ’adapt and regroup’ after Connacht hiding in United Rugby Championship

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published Oct 2, 2021

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Cape Town - Jake White admits that the Bulls could have put Connacht away in the first half, but that the windy and rainy conditions, as well as the shape of The Sportsground, made life difficult in the second half of their 34-7 United Rugby Championship defeat on Friday night.

The weather conditions were fairly stable in the opening 40 minutes, and with the wind behind their backs, the Bulls should have piled on the points to build up a big lead.

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Instead, despite producing a number of attacks inside the Connacht half, they could only come up with seven points – courtesy of a second-minute try by Lizo Gqoboka.

The men from Pretoria battled to finish, even though they went through a number of phases and carried the ball impressively. Props Gqoboka and Jacques van Rooyen were particularly busy, while Walt Steenkamp, Marcell Coetzee and Elrigh Louw combined well with hard-running centres Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe.

But it was Connacht who led 10-7 at halftime, through fullback Tiernan O’Halloran’s try and a conversion and penalty by flyhalf Jack Carty, and they landed the sucker punch within nine minutes of the second half as centre Tom Daly and wing Mack Hansen dotted down, and ended with five tries to secure the bonus point.

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“We had enough chances in the first half, and in the second half, we were up against it. We didn’t appreciate that 10-7 was not enough of a lead in elements like they were, and there was a spring in the step of the Connacht players, knowing that they had won the toss and playing significantly well enough in the first half to keep the score to 10-7, with all the opportunities we had,” White said afterwards.

“There’s no doubting the fact that they understand how to play on this field. The wind was pumping down, the rain came… As I said during the week, it’s one of those difficult games because if you lose the toss, it’s a bit like cricket – you struggle to get up the hill.

“Not only is the field sloped down into that corner, it’s also where the wind comes from. I don’t think people would appreciate how tough it was to actually carry the ball out of your half. In saying that, they obviously understood how to play on this field.”

Hansen’s five-pointer was controversial, as Connacht lock Ultan Dillane got in the way of Gqoboka, who was trying to tackle the left wing. Referee Ben Blain and TMO Andrew McMenemy came to the conclusion that Dillane’s actions was not “deliberate”, which was puzzling as it was still obstruction.

And in actual fact, Dillane clearly stepped backwards into Gqoboka’s path.

“You heard Marcell ask the referee … Some would argue that maybe Lizo was obstructed, but again, we just have to accept – that’s exactly what you learn when you come here,” White said.

“It’s something we are going to have to learn. We are going to have to adapt, and find ways in which we can regroup. It was difficult – all of a sudden they scored twice after halftime, and it was literally 12 points in 10 minutes. Then you’re uphill into a wind, and it’s very difficult.

“We tried to play rugby, and I thought at times we played really nicely in those conditions. But I’m never going to be a coach that says we are happy when we ended up losing 34-7 when we were 7-0 up.”

After defeats to Leinster and Connacht in Ireland, the Bulls will now move on to Wales, where the Cardiff Blues lie in wait next Saturday (8.35pm SA time kickoff).

@ashfakmohamed

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