PRETORIA – It was far from the perfect performance that Bulls coach John Mitchell would have been looking for.
But the 21-12 win over the Jaguares on Saturday would have been enough to get his charges ready ahead of their Super Rugby opener against the Hurricanes in two weeks’ time.
The Bulls showed that they are more than ready to take on Super Rugby’s big boys with a show of force against a full-strength Jaguares side on a wet and slippery turf at the Loftus Versfeld B-field.
What would have been most encouraging for Mitchell was how his Springboks performed in their first hit-out of the pre-season, with the likes of Trevor Nyakane, Handré Pollard, Jesse Kriel and Warrick Gelant proving how valuable they will be for the Bulls this season.
Having wrapped them in cotton wool throughout the pre-season and in their two friendlies against the Sharks and Stormers, the valuable time spent on conditioning and skills paid dividends.
Even though it was a far cry from the running and flowing rugby that is expected from any team coached by Mitchell, there were enough glimpses of what the Bulls can do to send out a signal to every other team that rumbled over them last season.
Over and above the Bulls’ thirst for running rugby, it was their defence that stood out in the same way it did in all of their pre-season outings.
Regardless of the Jaguares’ spirited second-half performance, they only managed to score two tries through replacement hooker Julian Montoya and wing Javier Ortega Desio.
“It was a tough match, and it was our first outing for the year and we got tired towards the end,” said Argentinian international Martin Landajo afterwards.
As much as it was a collective effort in stopping the Jaguares from making any headway, Mitchell would have found great comfort and contentment in the stand-out displays by fringe players Thembelani Bholi, Marco van Staden, lock Ruben van Heerden, halfbacks Embrose Papier and Manie Libbok, as well as Springbok lock Lood de Jager.
The Bulls skipper for the day, De Jager led with admiration and rolled back the years to the time he was the best player in the land three years ago.
It was a pleasing sight for the thousand or so spectators that had gathered on the field to see especially Gelant and Pollard show touches of why they are above the rest.
Full-time score at Loftus Versfeld Stadium
Vodacom Bulls vs Jaguares pic.twitter.com/AVfPOtuLEv
A satisfied Mitchell thought that his team had done well against a side filled with internationals, but believes there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“You’ve heard me say before that we are building a squad of 38 and depth is critical. At the end of the day, whether selected or not selected, everyone has to be ready,” he said.
“I thought the first half went very well against a Test side, so it brings closure into their minds on the international sides of the competition.
“Everyone is now on the same timeline, so all the returnees are now back again, and I always knew that it would be a bit untidy.
“We had to adapt to conditions as well, so the defence was suffocating on the opposition. There is still plenty to do, but a lot of really good stuff done.”