Slick Leinster too hot to handle for out-gunned Bulls
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The Bulls were left with no doubt as to what will be required to be competitive in the United Rugby Championship after defending champions Leinster blew them away within 13 minutes in Dublin on Saturday night.
The Irish powerhouse outfit scored two tries and a penalty in that period for a 17-0 lead, and went on to secure a comfortable 31-3 victory at the Aviva Stadium.
Leinster, who have won the PRO Rugby title for the last four seasons in a row, came off a pre-season, while the Bulls clinched the Currie Cup trophy two weeks ago, but it looked like they hadn’t played for a while in the opening quarter.
The speed of the Leinster game was too much to handle for the men from Pretoria, who looked like they were chasing shadows as they battled to plug the gaps in their defence, and also slipped tackles when they were in position.
Steered by a typically masterful performance from veteran flyhalf Johnny Sexton, Leinster’s intensity with ball-in-hand left the Bulls floundering at times.
After an early Sexton penalty, the home side dotted down for the time in the seventh minute through a lovely flowing move as they sucked in the Bulls defenders on the inside channel and found space for flying flank Josh van der Flier – the Man of the Match – who cut the line out wide and then bumped fullback David Kriel out of the way to score.
Apart from the pace of the game, the Bulls were unable to hold on to the ball, and lost a number of lineouts too, with new hooker Bismarck du Plessis not quite in tune with his jumpers on his debut.
One such mishap in their own half saw the hosts pounce, with a Sexton kick not gathered and prop Andrew Porter dived over in the 13th minute for a 17-0 lead.
Jake White’s team eventually found their attacking shape in the second quarter, where they brought their big ball-carriers such as No 8 Elrigh Louw, centre Harold Vorster and captain Marcell Coetzee into the game.
They also found a few holes around the fringes with the pick-and-go tactic, and flyhalf Johan Goosen was able to get his team on to the scoreboard with a 23rd-minute penalty.
They had a lucky escape after that when the excellent Leinster scrumhalf Luke McGrath made a lightning-quick break downfield, but he was hauled down by Kriel, with a forward pass providing relief for the visitors.
The Bulls upped their tempo, putting in some big hits in defence, while they carried strongly in the face of a ferocious Leinster defence.
They nearly got their reward through a sensational passage of play, with a number of offloads in the tackle before wing Madosh Tambwe went over – but the try was disallowed after the TMO spotted a knock-on from Louw in the build-up.
They had a penalty advantage, and Louw tried his old Currie Cup trick by charging at the line from a tap, but he lost the ball in contact.
White’s team had another attacking opportunity just before halftime, but their lineout-throw was stolen by the home side.
Those missed chances seemed to halt the Bulls’ momentum, as they never reached the same heights in the second half.
It was Leinster who played with wonderful rhythm and launched relentless attacks at the Bulls tryline, but they were stopped by dogged defence.
Just before the hour mark, though, replacement hooker James Tracy forced his way over from a lineout drive, and reserve flyhalf Ross Byrne finished things off in style with 10 minutes to go with the fourth Leinster five-pointer and the bonus point.
Leinster 31 – Tries: Josh van der Flier, Andrew Porter, James Tracy, Ross Byrne. Conversions: Johnny Sexton (3), Byrne. Penalty: Sexton (1).
Bulls 3 – Penalty: Johan Goosen (1).