Sloppy Bulls need to up their game ahead of Cheetahs clash
CAPE TOWN - If the Bulls are serious about becoming the Super Rugby Unlocked champions, then they need to catch a wake-up soon, as the marauding Cheetahs are lying in wait.
Jake White’s men were the best team on show at SuperFan Saturday a fortnight ago, but that changed at Loftus Versfeld against Griquas this past weekend.
Against a forward pack that would battle to break into the starting line-up at any of the four major franchises, the Bulls were unable to gain the physical dominance necessary to put the Kimberley side on the back foot.
The home team did not look like a Jake White-coached side, where winning the gain-line and being able to launch attacks from the line-outs were the cornerstones of success.
Instead, the director of rugby himself mentioned that at times, his team’s approach resembled “a bit of touchies” - where they were playing from touchline to touchline.
It was almost as if they avoided a physical confrontation with the Griquas forwards. After a few early mauls were stopped by Scott Mathie’s team around the tryline, the Bulls hardly set up another drive.
They were sloppy in their handling, became frustrated by a few questionable breakdown calls from referee Marius van der Westhuizen, and even their most trusted general, Morné Steyn, missed an early kick at goal and touch from a penalty.
Steyn did find his kicking boots later on and slotted a couple of vital three-pointers, and once White reminded his forwards at half-time to take on the Griquas pack and be more direct, things improved.
The referee penalised the visitors more regularly, and Bulls replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka seemed to stoke the fire in their bellies a bit once he came on to the pitch. But before we knew it, he was off again with a calf injury that White will hope won’t keep him out of Friday’s trip to Bloemfontein.
White would want another belligerent character in Duane Vermeulen to be over his sore knee, as well as Nizaam Carr, as the streetwise Cheetahs played like men on a mission against the Pumas on Saturday.
The continuity between backs and forwards was impressive from Cheetahs captain Ruan Pienaar and his teammates in the 53-31 victory as they try to prove to SA Rugby that they should be part of the PRO Rugby expansion.
They are fully equipped to punish the Bulls’ turnovers.
White felt that his team were caught off-guard by referee Van der Westhuizen’s breakdown interpretations compared to the Sharks warm-up.
“It looked like we didn’t have much rhythm. I think maybe because we had played so well and we had such nice rhythm and shape against the Sharks, we probably thought it would be a lot easier at the breakdown,” he said.
“At times, we probably didn’t put enough numbers into the first two breakdowns, and then gave them a chance to get some rhythm on defence and stop our ball.
“I thought Marius blew completely differently to the way we were reffed in the first game, and again, it doesn’t mean it was right or wrong. The referees have a different way of interpreting certain things.
“But I’ve just got to stress that I am a new coach with this group - I don’t know them all. When I put players on, I am still looking to see what they are like, how they fit in, what their attitudes are like, how they add to the combinations. It’s our second game together.
“With four minutes left to go, we were 10-0 down, and we go into half-time 10-all. People talk about scoring before half-time, after half-time and at the end of the game, and those are the championship moments. All we can say to the Bulls players is that we won those little battles, which is always positive as well.”