Bulls need some fixes for Leinster after bonus-point win

Bulls flank Mpilo Gumede dives over for a well-deserved try after a busy performance against the Dragons on Saturday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Bulls flank Mpilo Gumede dives over for a well-deserved try after a busy performance against the Dragons on Saturday night. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Mar 25, 2024


Comment by Ashfak Mohamed

Jake White would have been delighted with the character shown by his Bulls team to snatch a late bonus point when Johan Grobbelaar scored the fourth try against the Dragons.

But the struggles endured by the Pretoria side in Newport on Saturday night made for ideal preparation for Friday’s blockbuster clash against Leinster in Dublin (9.35pm kick-off, SA time).

The Bulls are sitting pretty in second position on the United Rugby Championship log on 45 points, four behind Leinster – who beat Zebre 31-7 in Parma on Saturday – which sets up a much-anticipated clash between the South African and Irish giants at the RDS Arena in Dublin this week.

White and his Bulls would have felt great relief in clinching that four-try bonus point as they battled to make full use of their scoring opportunities in a clear night at Rodney Parade.

While the struggling Dragons put up a strong defensive effort, they didn’t offer much on attack – and with the experience and class the Bulls had on the pitch, they would have expected to have an easier outing.

Yes, Kurt-Lee Arendse was the standout performer with a number of sniping runs from the back and out wide, while he also scored the opening try, while player of the match Willie le Roux produced some superb touches in the build-up to Arendse’s five-pointer and that of flank Mpilo Gumede.

“Credit to the boys. It’s a team sport, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them,” Le Roux said in a URC post-match interview.

“Coming from 35 degrees in Pretoria and playing in five degrees here, there is a 30-degree difference. It’s definitely a bit tougher.

“The Dragons played really well, so credit to them. They made it very tough for us.

“But we just stuck to what we know, and luckily we got that last try to get a bonus point, which was unbelievably important.

“It was a really tough game, so it was good for us to get this one under the belt.”

Gumede was a powerhouse at close quarters, in combination with impressive fellow loose forwards Marco van Staden and Marcell Coetzee, while hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels also made some eye-catching carries and offloads.

But the three biggest issues the Bulls need to address this week are their handling, decision-making and line-out efficiency to be ready for Leinster.

The rustiness after a three-week break was evident as there were just too many knock-ons on attack from forwards and backs alike, while Le Roux produced two unnecessary forward passes and also missed touch from a penalty.

Some players were guilty of trying to do too much on their own or attempting to go for the ‘glory’ pass, carry or kick instead of remaining patient and taking the ball through a few more phases to break down a committed Dragons defence.

And it was a surprise to see the Bulls waste a few attacking line-outs when the normally pinpoint Grobbelaar replaced Wessels at hooker in the second half.

What White will want his team to replicate throughout the Leinster clash was the first 10 minutes of the second half against the Dragons, where the Bulls seemed more focused and the passes stuck.

Gumede’s try was one to remember, as Le Roux’s cross-kick found Devon Williams, who swivelled one way and delivered an offload in the other direction for the No 7 to gallop over untouched.

That was followed by another exciting passage of play as Arendse broke clear on the right, with some deft handling seeing the ball finding Grobbelaar, who unfortunately passed it to a Dragons player.

And then what would have been the best try of the night was ruled out due to a forward pass by flyhalf Chris Smith to Williams, after Arendse had again sliced through the defence and more classy offloads saw prop Wilco Louw barge over.

Springbok star Canan Moodie didn’t get many opportunities with ball in hand at outside centre, although he was strong on defence – with midfield partner Harold Vorster enjoying a busy game with a number of carries and offloads.

But you would think Moodie would return to right wing against Leinster, and that the regular centre pair of David Kriel and Stedman Gans would be brought back against Leinster, as well as halfbacks Embrose Papier – who scored the crucial third try in the 76th minute with a brilliant solo effort – and Johan Goosen.

Points scorers

Bulls 31 – Tries: Kurt-Lee Arendse, Mpilo Gumede, Embrose Papier, Johan Grobbelaar. Conversions: Chris Smith (4). Penalty: Smith (1).

Dragons 10 – Try: Corey Baldwin. Conversions: Will Reed (1). Penalty: Cai Evans (1).