Bulls save face for South Africa in Super14

The Bulls saved a little face for South Africa after the other four franchises all went down on a weekend that made a mockery of pronouncements of South Africa’s rugby depth at a level below that of the national team.

South African rugby can thank their lucky stars that the application for a sixth franchise for the 2011 Super 15 was denied.

The Bulls are without doubt South Africa’s most complete team as they showed against the Waratahs in their 48-38 Super 14 win at Loftus on Saturday — albeit with an Achilles heel of slow starts.

When they couldn’t breach the defence in midfield, the Bulls simply switched to the rolling-maul as a tactic after the visitors had built a 17-0 lead after ten minutes.

“It’s funny how this game is now (with the new law applications). It’s not about playing well, it’s about giving guys (opponents) opportunities in the wrong areas of the field. We must have a look at not making mistakes, because it’s quite tough to keep guys out when they get ball,” said Bulls captain Victor Matfield.

“Looking at the game, there were probably more tries scored than goal kicks . So I thought it’s worth going for the corner and keeping them under pressure.. and I’m happy that the team backed up the call.”

The Bulls rolling mauls were very, very good. Matfield admitted that he had spoken to referee Marius Jonker about the negative play of the Waratahs that brought little more than warnings and negated the Bulls to a large extent.

“That’s some thing we will take up with him because we want those drives to get going and we couldn’t because there was a lot of foul play out there.”

The Bulls missed their fourth consecutive score of 50 (including last year’s 61-17 win in the final against the Chiefs) by two points, scored their 13th consecutive win at Loftus, and now have 17 tries and 149 points to their credit in this year’s three rounds.

Four tries and 31 points in the second half showed what they’re made of. “It was a calm dressing room at halftime,” said coach Frans Ludeke.

“I think we addressed the right areas, and the second half was clinical and we got the 31 points.”

The Newlands fans’ faces told it all when Joe Pietersen missed the final conversion that could have given his side a 19-all draw against the Brumbies, who won 19-17.

For the Stormers,who have gone on record saying that they want the title this year, it was a big setback. Poor tactical kicking from their Springbok halfbacks Peter Grant and Ricky January is being blamed for the defeat.

Perhaps the fact that their very expensive signings Jaque Fourie and Bryan Habana didn’t get any ball is as important – even though the Brumbies’ tackling was outstanding.

Just shifting the form of attack, even by foot with some judicious grubbers, would have made a difference.

As it was, the Stormers played little rugby outside of the grunting of their pack that scrummed reasonably well and were close on the heels of the winners at breakdown time.

Where to now for the Sharks?

One try and no wins from three matches is an indication that more than just coaching or execution is going wrong in Durban, and the 35-6 defeat against Crusaders – who are not yet near their best – in Christchurch underlined that something is amiss.

The Sharks have senior players like John Smit, Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Johan Muller, Jacques Botes, Ryan Kankowski, Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott, Adi Jacobs, Stefan Terblanche, JP Pietersen, Odwa Ndungane and Steven Sykes that started on Saturday.

Newcomer Willem Alberts and fit-again Springbok centre Waylon Murray are experienced in their own right and on the bench Springboks Jean Deyzel, Jannie du Plessis, English international Andy Goode, Deon Carstens, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Keegan Daniel and Riaan Swanepoel are no greenhorns either.

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