Shepherd in full Force at Loftus

The Western Force pulled off the biggest upset of the season when they outmuscled the Bulls to record a well-deserved 30-27 Super 14 Round Three victory at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday.

The teams scored three tries each, but a personally tally of 25 points by wing Cameron Shepherd – including a near flawless goal-kicking display in which he kicked three conversions and three penalties – proved to be the difference between the two sides.

The win also ensured the Force, after winning just one game in their debut year in 2006, have won both their matches on tour in South Africa and moved to the top of the standings – albeit temporarily.

The Bulls were left reeling after the Force came back from a first half of home side domination to run the boys of blue into the ground, sneaking the victory with three tries to one in the second half.

The rugby of the Bulls does not suit the rugby of Super rugby. But coach Heyneke Meyer overcomes this by instilling a pattern of play into his side that brutally attempts to take each game by the scruff of the neck and play it according to the dictates of Loftus HQ.

However, problems arise when this is not allowed to happen.

The Force were superb and credit must go to them for their superb display of fast-paced and creative play, but it must be said that their performance demonstrates the flaws of Bulls rugby.

If opposing sides are able to absorb the physical pressure of the brutish Bulls, and then have the confidence and calm to put their own pattern into action the Bulls look vulnerable.

This week the Force did not make as many mistakes as the Cheetahs and a Bulls game which must dominate completely or not at all was exposed.

The Bulls started a little shakily. The Force hit the ground running but this was quickly snuffed out when the Bulls got into their stride. Steyn ranged a couple of punts into touch and the Bulls began their domination via strength in the lineout and strength off the restarts.

The Bulls pack, with Wikus van Heerden and Danie Rossouw prominent, punched the underbelly of the Force until it hurt, and gaps opened up for JP Nel outwide twice. This saw the Bulls take a 17-9 lead into halftime, the Force being kept in touch by means of a few Bulls mistakes.

The second half saw a Force side emerge with continued resilience. They exhibited a self-belief in their style of play and a verve that saw them put in one of the finest displays of running rugby so far in Super rugby 2007.

Cameron Shepherd was brilliant. His kicking kept the Force right with the Bulls and his deft touch with the tryline in sight eventually saw the Force revived.

The first of his tries saw him carry two players over the line with him, while his second effort saw Drew Mitchell set him free after a delayed pass, yet leaving him with much work to do on the outside.
He grubbered on the run and outstripped the cover defense for a scintillating dot down that was the key moment in the match.

The Bulls had just extended their lead with an Anton Leonard try down the other end and threatened to squash any Force resistance.

But the Force just kept running. And this, combined with Shepherd’s precision with the boot, left the Bulls with no contingency plan.

The Force’s clincher came from another movement outwide when loosehead prop Gareth Hardy exchanged passes with David Pocock down the right and sailed over near the corner.

Victor Matfield marshalled a reply but, with the influential Van Heerden inexplicably replaced, the Bulls looked static.

It must be noted that even an out-of-sorts Bulls side had opportunities to win, but a stern Force performance spearheaded by Nathan Sharpe meant the Bulls just came short over and over again.

They had many opportunities to knock a penalty over for the draw but declined all of them. Finally it was too lat

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