RYAN VREDE watched Morne Steyn score all the Bulls’ points in their 18-13 victory over the Sharks in a compelling match at Loftus.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is a firm believer in Steyn’s match-winning ability with the boot and tonight he displayed his value in tight contests, his five penalties and a drop-goal starting the Bulls’ new era in the best possible manner.
The Bulls started poorly then morphed into their archetypically efficient self, with Steyn’s tactical kicking and goal kicking central to their success. The method is well known and predictable, but when it is executed with the efficiency it was in the second half the Bulls are nearly impossible to beat.
The Sharks, starved of possession, grew increasingly desperate, and that desperation manifested in their attacks becoming progressively more cavalier. One such move late in the piece dragged them back into the match, but the Bulls were resolute in defence under enormous pressure. The nature of this victory will be an important part of this young Bulls side’s education. For the 40 minutes when it counted they conjured the tactical intelligence and granitic spirit of the championship sides that have preceded them.
There was also an interesting sub-plot to emerge. The performances of youngsters Juandre Kruger, Francois Hougaard, Francois Venter, CJ Stander, JJ Engelbrecht, Pat Lambie, Marcell Coetzee and Anton Bresler suggested that South African rugby has a bright future.
The first half was a forgettable affair. There was always going to be energy, physicality and intensity but neither team managed to channel those things to their advantage on attack. A scoreless first half bore testament to this, with a string of fundamental handling errors (the majority committed by the Bulls) and ill-discipline robbing the contest of any flow.
Both sides struggled to control possession through multiple phases. Certainly some brutal defence contributed to their struggles in this regard, but that alone cannot mitigate this shortcoming given the calibre of players on show. They often went wide without earning the right to do so through purposeful phase play. A measure of pragmatism was lacking, with little appreciation shown for playing in the opposition’s territory and backing pressure defence to force errors.
This all changed for the Bulls in the second half and they systematically built a lead after forcing errors from the Sharks in kickable positions. The Sharks will lament three missed penalties, two of which you would have backed Lambie to bank. But overall they were outsmarted by a superior side on the night, with Steyn securing yet another famous Bulls win at Loftus.