A pathetic effort form the Bulls saw them murdered 43-27 by the Chiefs.
Only the Chiefs’ lack of opportunism and poor handling prevented the scoreline from getting really messy. The Bulls now find themselves at their lowest point since being crowned champions last year, and with the Blues and Force to come, they have little hope of dragging themselves off the canvas.
That title is now lost and rightfully so, because they’re a shadow of the clinical, organised unit who made history in Durban. If questions were lurking about their head coach Frans Ludeke’s aptitude for Super Rugby before this match, they’re being shouted from the rooftops now. How a man with 10 Springboks in his run-on side can’t enigineer a victory against distinctly average opposition is beyond comprehension. The Bulls have to put him out of his misery now, or run the risk of a future marked with mediocrity.
They’ll point to a period in the match where they drew within nine points of the Chiefs, but that had more to do with the Chiefs’ complacency and a touch of fortune, than it did with their skill.
They spent 75% of the match attempting to repel wave after wave of Chiefs’ attack, and it was always more when, rather than if, they would crack. A double strike just before half-time gave the Chiefs the ascendancy, and outside of a six minute wobble, they never gave the defending chumps a look in.
The Bulls started brightly, though, and looked a shadow of the atrocious side who had 40 points put on them last week. They fronted on defence, resisting the Chiefs’ powerful ball carriers through a strong tackle point contest and a unified and patient defensive line.
They absorbed the early heat, then took their first scoring opportunity to elicit hope that they may get their tour off the ground. Fourie Du Preez attacked the defensive line from the scum base and then provided quick service to a flat standing Derick Hougaard. The pivot shifted the ball wide to Wynand Olivier who ghosted through a huge hole in the Chiefs’ defensive line.
Chiefs coach Ian Foster would not have been pleased with his team being breached on second phase, but they regrouped to dominate the half. They spurned a number of good scoring opportunities before their pressure eventually paid dividends. Sione Lauaki was expected to be a threat with ball in hand, but the Bulls wouldn’t have banked on him coming up with a little chip, collect and offload party trick to set up Brendon Leonard for a 25m sprint to the chalk.
Tanerau Latimer compounded their misery just before half-time. The Chiefs rumbled up through the phases before Latimer picked and sniped from a ruck, powered through two tackles and stretched out to touch down. Stephen Donald added the extras to give his side a 12-10 half-time lead, then added three to extend the lead just after the break.
Leonard was omnipresent, and grabbed a well deserved brace by showing great awareness to quick-tap a free kick and drive over from 5m out. Converted tries by Dwyane Sweeny and Lelia Masaga opened up a 36-13 lead, and with 19 minutes remaining, it looked for all money the Bulls would concede 50 points.
But they rallied to score twice, the first through Deon Stegmann who shot over from close range, while Akona Ndungane profited from a favourable bounce from a box kick to canter home.
The Bulls, however, never had the composure, inventiveness or skill to unhinge the Chiefs defence. Instead they conceded a soft try late in the match, and held on desperately in the final minutes to avoid the half century of points.
The Pretoria boys will come out with fighting talk this week about how they’ll improve against the Blues and how they really believe they can cause an upset in Auckland. They’ll tell you that Bryan Habana and Zane Kirchner will make a difference and that the spirit in the camp is still superb (despite being mauled by two of the tournament’s weaker teams and having only won two in six). Only a fool will buy that rubbish. This is a demoralised team headed by a coach who is out of his depth.
Expect more torture over the next fortnight.
Chiefs - Try: Brendon Leonard (2), Tanerau Latimer, Dwayne Sweeney, Lelia Masaga, Liam Messam. Conversion: Stephen Donald (5). Penalty: Donald
Bulls - Wynand Olivier, Deon Stegamann, Akona Ndungane. Conversion: Derick Hougaard (3). Penalty: Hougaard. Drop goal: Hougaard
By Ryan Vrede