Bulls took their chances this time, says smiling Jake White
CAPE TOWN - Jake White couldn’t help himself when asked whether he had a copy of the Sharks’ lineout calls before the Bulls’ 41-14 bonus-point victory at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
“I think they are still using the lineout calls from when I was there about five or six years ago! So, I didn’t need to get the playbook,” the former Springbok coach quipped after watching his team steal a number of the Sharks’ lineouts as they ran in six scintillating tries to go to the top of the Super Rugby Unlocked log with 10 points – although the Cheetahs, on nine, have a game in hand after their clash against the Lions was postponed due to a high number of Covid-19 positive cases.
White had a reason to smile, as his team had to weather an early storm from the Sharks, who won two scrum penalties and didn’t take a backward step in defence either.
In fact, the Bulls director of rugby noted during the post-match press conference that the Durban outfit actually led 6-3 in the first half, so he was delighted with the character shown by captain Duane Vermeulen and his team.
The catalyst for the floodgates opening was centre Stedman Gans’ first try, where they were able to hold on to possession before Cornal Hendricks cut past a few defenders, while Gans also produced some fancy footwork.
All the front-foot ball from the forwards allowed the backs to take on the Sharks defence – something that wasn’t evident in the last two games, although the Bulls performed in similar fashion in the SuperFan Saturday clash between the two teams.
“I don’t know what it is about the Sharks. I think maybe because we did so well against them last time, it’s always easier to get the players up. Compared to the last two weeks, we just started to take our chances. In the last couple of weeks, we probably had the same opportunities, but never used them,” White said.
“The thing that really impressed me the most was how our bench comes on and makes a massive impact. It’s now three weeks in a row where we have finished strongly, so conditioning-wise and the ability of our reserves to come and make a significant change is obviously very good for us.”
White felt that skipper Vermeulen – who was also the Man of the Match – was instrumental in getting the Bulls to focus on fixing the early hiccups, while he praised his management team for their halftime messages.
“There was a calmness and understanding of what we needed to get right. That comes with teams that stay together for a long time, so when you see that with a relatively new team of players that haven’t played together, so obviously you get really excited about that. You are pleased that there is a lot of learning taking place as well,” he said.
The Sharks came off a bye, which has often proven problematic for teams. But coach Sean Everitt didn’t want to use the week-long break as the reason for the defeat.
“Let’s be honest here: that’s not an excuse for our performance tonight. We started off really well, even though we leaked two soft tries in the first half. We felt that we were still in the game at halftime. But the Bulls have got a formidable pack and they had a good bench, which ultimately turned the game on its head. Well done to them,” he said.
“Definitely, there were defence lapses. But you’ve got to give credit to the Bulls – they handled our contestable kicks really well and managed to get behind us, which then in turn puts pressure on your defence, and you can’t set properly and realign. There were reasons for that.
“I actually thought we defended pretty well in the first 30 minutes, and there was no lack of effort. The guys tried really hard tonight; we were just a little inaccurate in the execution of our plan that we had.”
Everitt said that it’s “always hard to lose a Springbok tighthead” following Thomas du Toit’s departure to a calf injury in the first half, adding that a scan on Monday will reveal the extent of the damage.
The Bulls next face the Stormers at Loftus next Saturday (7pm kickoff), while the Sharks travel to Mbombela Stadium to take on the Pumas on the same day (4.30pm).