Patented Bully Boy-brand slow poison choked the Waratahs at Loftus in the Vodacom Super 14, resulting in a priceless 26-17 win for Heyneke Meyer’s side.
This was a victory built on the back of all those in Pretoria know better than the lyrics to “Ek bly a bul’. Dominance in the line-outs, competence at scrumtime and a seemingly endless stockpile of one-of runners strangled the Sydney side who delivered their second poor performance whilst resident in “the Republic”.
Last week, the Stormers were unable to capitalise and close out a game they dominated. What they lacked in clinical direction at flyhalf and a pack to control possession, the Bulls provided in truckloads.
The boot of Derick Hougaard has fired this season, and four penalties from the rejuvenated 10 saw the Bulls out to a 12-3 lead at the break. What the rugby lacked in appeal it made up for in substance. To the observer what was dour, low risk footy enabled the Bulls to set up a platform from which two opportunistic tries early in the second half put the game beyond the tourists’ reach.
JP Nel and Wynand Olivier were slated last weekend for an abysmal defensive display. But a week of work has seen revolving doors become granite. Both Nel and Olivier responded with outstanding displays, with Nel’s 35th minute tackle and turnover work Richie McCaw would have autographed with pride.
Similarly Olivier, who made notable hits in the 12th, 14th and 65th minutes – two of which could be considered try-savers. He never slipped a tackle all afternoon.
Nel was rewarded for a gutsy display when a period of sustained pressure saw Hougaard go right from a ruck five metres out, only to find Tuqiri as the sole defender. A simple pass to Nel saw the opening try of the game.
The second eight minutes later, scored by Bryan Habana, was trademark opportunism. Winger Peter Hewat’s stuff up when attempting to take a relatively simple high ball was poked through by Jacques Cronje and Habana had the pace to finish and hand his side a 23 point lead.
The fact that 26-3 became 26-17 will be the area of most pressing concern for Meyer. The replies were immediate through Rocky Elsom and Hewat, and owed more to the Bulls thinking the game was won and relinquishing the strangehold on first-phase possession that had tightened since the opening minutes.
Meyer’s replacements noticably destabilised the scrum, and Chilliboy Ralepelle will be better for the experience of learning that stardom at U19 and U21 level does not automatically translate into achievement on the senior stage.
Ultimately, the bonus point that some will say was up for the taking should not be overly mourned. With Victor Matfield, Richard Bands and Gary Botha all expected to return for the Bulls’ next fixture against the Highlanders in two weeks time (they have a bye next week), a rested and revitalised team will recommence the competition with a strong 10 points from three games.
Meyer has spoken extensively about the fact that his pack is in a period of transition. What he does not do is take credit for the fact that not many actually notice the major personnel changes since last year, a testament to the continuity in performance.
With their tight five set to be bolstered by three quality Boks, pre-season predictions of the Pretoria side again carrying the South African flag appear to be well placed.
Tries: JP Nel and Bryan Habana
Cons: Derick Hougaard 2
Pens: Hougaard 4
Tries: Rocky Elsom and Peter Hewat
Cons: Hewat 2
**Sinbin: Matt Dunning (6 mins)