The Bulls may have just turned their season around after a significantly more positive performance against the Blues in Pretoria. Frans Ludeke must have been reading the reports as his team completely shifted gears, regularly moving the ball through the hands and looking a far more complete side than the one that slogged through its initial efforts this season with antiquated ten man rugby tactics. It wasn’t perfect but it was a huge step in the right direction should they continue in this vein.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter has proved an inspirational signing since returning from France, a real calming presence in the director’s chair and looking much more assured with the boot than Louis Fouché. It was his try that kicked things off, drifting past Jackson Willison to score a soft try of first phase possession. He followed it up with a superb drop goal from nearly 50 metres out that must have been disheartening for the visitors.
The boot of rookie flyhalf Simon Hickey was all that prevented the Blues from being completely blown out of the water in the first half, as he contributed four penalties to somehow keep them in the game. Pita Ahki was awarded a lucky try after it looked for all money that George Moala had knocked on Hickey’s well-weighted grubber in the end zone, but the day well and truly belonged to the Bulls. Their forwards had an easy day and the team just looked far more enthusiastic with the new game plan, particularly Francois Hougaard who was afforded more freedom to run and pass instead of kicking all game.
Jan Serfontein had his best game of the campaign, as did Victor Matfield, looking more and more comfortable and lasting a full 80 minutes. His lineout work is as good as ever, and his body appears to be getting used to the rough stuff again though he still looks tentative at times. The Bulls also benefitted from having a proper openside on the pitch, with Jono Ross happily back at no8. Deon Stegmann isn’t everyone’s favorite but the team looks more balanced with him in it.
The Blues, for the most part, were just overwhelmed. They had nobody to truck it up and make the hard yards, and the Bulls had clearly targeted Steven Luatua as each time he touched the ball he was met with multiple tacklers. Jerome Kaino and Ma’a Nonu cannot return soon enough, and surely Patrick Tu’ipulotu is the way forward now rather than Liaki Moli. Piri Weepu, frankly, looks bored. He has a habit of losing interest and was probably hoping he’d be dishing the ball up to Benji Marshall by now.
A bit of luck produced the bonus point try at the death. Referee Andrew Lees, who had a shaky night, botched the call ruling that Marcel van der Merwe had gone over with momentum even though the replay, and indeed the TMO, suggested that it was a double movement. It had no impact on the result and in truth the Bulls probably deserved it, but small margins might have a big impact on the table later on. No doubt he’ll be spending some extra time with the assessor.
BULLS 38 vs 22 BLUES
Saturday, March 8, 15:00 GMT, Pretoria
07 mins – J.L. Potgieter try 5-0
08 mins – J.L. Potgieter con 7-0
10 mins – S. Hickey pen 7-3
12 mins – J.L. Potgieter drop 10-3
15 mins – S. Hickey pen 10-6
20 mins – J.L. Potgieter pen 13-6
22 mins – S. Hickey pen 13-9
28 mins – J. Ross try 18-9
28 mins – J.L. Potgieter con 20-9
32 mins – S. Hickey pen 20-12
39 mins – J. Serfontein try 25-12
46 mins – J.L. Potgieter pen 28-12
57 mins – P. Ahki try 28-17
58 mins – S. Hickey con 28-19
62 mins – S. Hickey pen 28-22
66 mins – J.L. Potgieter pen 31-22
80 mins – M. van der Merwe try 36-22
80 mins – H. Pollard con 38-22
J. Visser; A. Ndungane (P. van Zyl 55), J.J. Engelbrecht, J. Serfontein (U. Beyers 68), B. Basson; J.L. Potgieter (H. Pollard 70), F. Hougaard; D. Greyling (M. van der Merwe 54), C. Visagie (B. Mbonambi 62), W. Kruger (M. Mellett 62); F. van der Merwe (capt.) (P. Willemse 76), V. Matfield; D. Stegmann (J. Engelbrecht 51), J. du Plessis, J. Ross.
C. Piutau; F. Halai, G. Moala, J. Willison (P. Ahki 47), T. Li; S. Hickey, P. Weepu (B. Hall 70); T. Woodcock (S. Prattley 58), J. Parsons (T. McCartney 69), C. Faumuina (A. Ta’avao 52); L. Moli (P. Tu’ipulotu 52), T. Donnelly; S. Luatua, L. Braid (capt.), P. Saili (B. O’Connor 51).
Referee: A. Lees (ARU)
Assistants: M. van der Westhuizen (SARU) & S. van Staden (SARU)
TMO: J. Greeff (SARU)