RYAN VREDE reports on a match where the Bulls kept themselves in with a chance of winning the South African conference with a 40-24 victory over the Cheetahs at Loftus.
There is a reason the Cheetahs have a woeful Super Rugby record against the Bulls and it was evident once more at Loftus tonight. The Cheetahs were manhandled at the gainline, allowing the Bulls freedom to play a free-flowing brand of rugby that earned them a crucial bonus-point before half-time.
For the first 55 minutes the Bulls looked dangerous every time they drove into the Cheetahs’ territory, their strike runners giving them the momentum that allowed them to consistently force the Cheetahs to defend with an unset defensive line. From there they exploited the Cheetahs’ well documented defensive vulnerabilities or pressured them into costly errors.
The Cheetahs never looked capable of a telling rebuttal in that period, their tackle fight too weak to unhinged the well organised Bulls, and their tactical game lacking a kicker who could drive them down into good positions.
The Bulls opened the scoring through Pierre Spies after they rumbled up into the Cheetahs’ red zone, the No 8 driving over from close range. Dean Greyling was over in similar fashion soon thereafter, and the signs were ominous for the visitors even with just a quarter of the match played.
They had their opportunities but either lacked the composure to finish (often they isolated themselves as white-line fever took hold) or were undone by impressive scramble defence. The Bulls repelled them fairly comfortably, and then struck twice before half-time, Zane Kirchner crossing after a Morne Steyn bomb was spilt by Ashley Johnson, while Francois Hougaard strolled over after collecting a loose ball engineered by a powerful Bulls scrum. Morne Steyn banked his third conversion (the other struck the post) to give the Bulls a 26-0 going down the tunnel.
The Bulls would have been acutely aware that they had to guard against getting loose in their approach. It would have been the Cheetahs’ only path back into the contest, but they did well be reign themselves in when the temptation replace pragmatism with panache would have been strong.
The Cheetahs lost Andries Strauss to the sin bin in the 50th minute and the Bulls soon capitalised on their advantage, Werner Kruger rounding off a multi-phase move that depleted the Cheetahs’ defensive line, and Bjorn Basson mesmerising with an excellent solo effort.
The Bulls made a string of changes with a quarter to play and this affected attacking and defensive synergy, the latter resulting in the Cheetahs score thrice in eight minutes. However, the burst only served to entertain the crowd as the Bulls’ lead was too big for the visitors ever to harbour thoughts of a comeback. Henirich Brussow bulldozed down the touchline to score late in the piece but, again, it was no more than a consolation.
The Sharks await the Bulls at Kings Park on Friday, a match in which they will be tested infinitely more than what they were this evening. You suspect they would have to win that fixture to stand any chance of going into the last round in contention for the conference title (the Stormers will be favourites to beat the Cheetahs next week) and that fixture in Durban will be a good measure of their title credentials.