RYAN VREDE reports on the Bulls’ emphatic 32-18 bonus-point victory over a Lions side whose season hit a new low.
The Lions’ cause to retain their Super Rugby status weakens by the week. They continue to make the same errors and exhibit the same tactical naivety. There has been no progression in their game despite coach John Mitchell’s claims to the contrary. Injuries have undoubtedly undermined their cause but those have no bearing on their inability to do the basics of the game and the lack of appreciation for building the platform they need to play the expansive brand they want to.
Tonight they were confronted with a vastly superior opponent who simply smashed them into submission through their phase play, then cut them to ribbons in the back division. The Bulls led 20-10 at the break, but that scoreline flattered the Lions, who had been completely swamped for the majority of the half and who never looked like scoring after an early charge down saw Tian Meyer cross the whitewash.
The Bulls should have been further ahead but they were wasteful in some good positions and this allowed the Lions and their long-suffering fans to cling to the hope of a derby win. But the relative ease with which the Bulls scored their three first half tries should have been an ominous sign for the hosts. Akona Ndungane finished a move that featured a powerful Pierre Spies surge that decimated the defensive line. Francois Hougaard then snatched an overcooked lineout from the air 15m from the tryline and drove through the tackles of multiple Lions players to score. Their third came thanks to patient and powerful phase play that the Lions had no rebuttal for.
The Lions hadn’t been combative at the gainline and as a result were never able to stifle the Bulls’ attacking momentum. Furthermore they had kicked poorly all evening. These flaws accounted for the Bulls’ next two tries, Morne Steyn taking advantage of a depleted defensive line with a cross-kick to Ndungane who dished off to the excellent CJ Stander, then JJ Engelbrecht collected a miscued punt and broke from just outside his 22m and set up Juandre Kruger. Steyn kicked the conversion to give the Bulls a 32-13 lead.
It was no surprise that the Lions’ best period came when they played through 16 phases to score their second try. They have the personnel to play directly more often. Why Mitchell hasn’t instructed them to do this more often is perplexing.
His side gave the Bulls no headaches. Indeed the biggest one coach Frans Ludeke has is Morne Steyn’s indifferent goalkicking. He kicked three from eight, an unacceptable return by his high standards.
Mitchell’s problems are significantly more serious and encompass technical, physical and psychological issues that demands urgent addressing and decisive action.