Leopards make Bulls sweat
6 Aug 2010
RYAN VREDE reports on the Bulls’ 43-38 victory over the Leopards at Loftus.
The Leopards 15 minutes of fame was followed by 35 minutes of mediocrity, before they launched a late rearguard that had the Bulls sweating in the closing stages. Ultimately the defending champions held on, but the fact that they conceded 38 points and five tries to an ordinary outfit is disturbing.
Certainly a spate of substitutions adversely affected them and their intensity dropped significantly after Francois Hougaard’s early second half try. However, it would be amiss not to credit the Leopards for a plucky performance that nearly yielded a dramatic upset.
They came out of the blocks charging, competing rabidly for the ball on the deck, stifling the Bulls’ momentum and creating attacking opportunities from turnover ball. They opened up a 10 point lead through a well worked try and a penalty, but the Bulls soon found their groove.
The hosts, whose execution of an uncharacteristic expansive approach was initially poor, settled, and systematically eroded their opponents’ resistance. The tempo with which they played after being blunted early on, stretched the Leopards beyond their capacity, while their ability to dominate the contact points amplified their threat.
Gerhard van den Heever rounded off a move that punched up left then snapped right to find the winger unmarked. Jacques-Louis Potgieter added the extras and was soon called on to convert once more when Dewald Potgieter crashed over from 7m out.
The Leopards’ fight had seemingly diminished, and the Bulls were rampant, bossing every facet of play, especially the collisions on attack and defence. They exploited ever-growing holes in the Leopards’ defensive line clinically, and the manner in which they engineered their bonus-point try, Van den Heever hitting the line hard, taking an inside pop and blitzing numerous defenders en route to the line, was ominous.
Potgieter missed the conversion, but at 26-10 going down the tunnel the result should have been sealed.
Hougaard capped an impressive performance in his preferred position of scrumhalf with a try just after the break. It’s his second start in succession after two seasons spent largely on the wing, and the 22-year-old is looking an accomplished No 9. His service is sharp and crisp and his decision-making good. His kicking game needs to improve, but it will under the tutelage of Fourie du Preez. Continued performances of this calibre must put him in line to crack the Springboks’ match 22 for the home leg of the Tri-Nations ahead of Ricky Januarie.
Leopards scrumhalf Michael Bondesio exploited ordinary Bulls defence in scoring a brace, but an earlier Stefan Watermeyer try had given the Bulls a very comfortable lead. But when Neill Jacobs converted a Walter Venter try with 17 minutes remaining to make it 40-31, there was a patent lift in the collective belief.
Potgieter banked three points, but Dumisane Matyeshana scored the Leopards’ fifth try to make it a five-point game. The Bulls, recognising the imminent threat, steeled their defence and clung to the points.