Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Frans Ludeke on Sunday praised his team’s mental strength and belief after they rose from the canvas like a champion boxer and beat the Toyota Free State Cheetahs 31-22 in their crucial Absa Currie Cup match in Bloemfontein at the weekend.
The game was effectively a knockout fixture for the Bulls because defeat would have ended their chances of making the semi-finals, and their worst fears seem to have been realised when Free State flyhalf Willie du Plessis landed a drop goal in the 73rd minute to give the home side a 22-21 lead.
But the Bulls then kept the ball for multiple phases, showing excellent ball-retention, and the relentless driving of their forwards and some good incursions by outside backs Sampie Mastriet and Ulrich Beyers set up a penalty for Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
The Bulls then had to defend their 24-22 lead with all their might as the Cheetahs battered away on attack, before replacement flank Wian Liebenberg charged down another attempted drop goal by Du Plessis, the ball rebounding for Mastriet to streak away for a try, Potgieter’s angled conversion denying the home side what could be a crucial bonus point.
“It’s the first time since 2008 that we’ve won in a Currie Cup match in Bloemfontein and that shows what a special effort that was. So I’m very happy, mentally to be able to come back after they had taken the lead was great. Normally when a home side does that at the end of a game, they hang on to win. But we had the belief and we worked the ball around well at the end and it was a huge defensive effort,” Ludeke told The Citizen on Sunday.
Ludeke singled out the finishing of wing Mastriet, who is certainly giving the Bulls plenty of spark on attack, for praise.
“Sampie was the difference between the two sides with his finishing. But there were a lot of other positives, we had control for a long time and our scrum was another highlight,” Ludeke said.
The Cheetahs were getting such a hiding in that set-piece that barely a scrum was completed without referee Marius van der Westhuizen penalising them.
When Mastriet scored his first try in the 23rd minute, the Bulls had opened up a solid 11-3 lead, but their discipline then went awry, allowing Du Plessis to kick two penalties. Potgieter was yellow-carded just before half-time and lock Paul Willemse followed him on the hour mark, getting the Cheetahs strongly back into the game.
“Ja, discipline was a factor, they were able to maul from penalties and that got the Cheetahs back into the game. But discipline we can easily fix, sometimes the guys were just too keen to get turnovers. We just need to make better decisions, at the mauls too in terms of when to contest because if you miss in the air then you’re in a position of weakness to defend,” Ludeke said.