The Vodacom Blue Bulls regressed back into the uninspired type of rugby that was derided as being stereotypical of their province as they sank to a disappointing 31-8 defeat at the hands of the Waratahs in their SuperRugby match in Sydney on Saturday.
They showed encouraging endeavour in the first half, operating off a strong scrum platform, but their error-rate was not befitting SuperRugby contenders and they failed to round off a number of promising opportunities. Their only points in the first half came after the hooter as a big scrum earned a penalty kicked by flyhalf Tian Schoeman.
The Waratahs were also guilty of handling errors and poor finishing in the first half, perhaps rattled by the loss of ace centre Kurtley Beale inside the first minute when he suffered a knee injury chasing after a kick and slipping as he tried to launch himself airborne.
The Waratahs scored the only try of the first half when scrumhalf Rudy Paige’s kick was charged down and Schoeman then knocked-on to give the home side territory deep inside the Bulls 22. New South Wales flyhalf Bernard Foley went on a strong run and scrumhalf Nick Phipps then went on a sniping run and, having not been held by the first tackler, he got up and dived over the line.
Foley converted and the Waratahs led 7-3 at the halftime break.
The second half was a miserable affair for the Bulls. They just could not get their hands on the ball, not helped by the tendency to launch poor up-and-unders from the middle of the field, and the Waratahs spent most of the last 40 minutes inside the Bulls half.
The memo that the Bulls clearly didn’t get or ignored – just to hang on to the ball through phases and build pressure on a slippery, poor surface at the Allianz Stadium – was followed to the T by the Waratahs in the opening minutes of the second half.
The home side kept the ball tight, using the pack to pick and go, driving forwards, until Phipps went wide, the draw-and-pass sucking in prop Marcel van der Merwe and allowing flank Dean Mumm to burst through the gap and score the second try.
Foley converted and then kicked a penalty for the Waratahs to lead 17-3 going into the last 10 minutes. They extended that scoreline with two further tries as the Bulls simply froze, unable to break out of their shells.
Israel Folau, the darling of the great city of Sydney, made two separate breaks in the build-up to Phipps’s second try, while a very disappointing game for the Bulls ended with replacement prop Angus Ta’avao rumbling over to secure a bonus point win for the Waratahs.
The visitors did manage to score a single try, in the 74th minute, when replacement centre Dries Swanepoel burst through in midfield after the Bulls showed how capable they are of opening up defences when they hang on to the ball for several phases.
The Bulls are now returning home and are going to have to ask themselves some tough questions about their desire to advance their rugby. They are being outworked and outmuscled by sides, which are not good signs.
There are few Bulls players who can feel satisfied with their performances; flank Lappies Labuschagne was immense and his work-rate was exceptional, while loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka scrummed superbly along with Van der Merwe, and was good in the loose as well. Fullback SP Marais showed some fine touches on attack, but the Bulls are not attacking nearly enough.
Waratahs – Tries: Nick Phipps (2), Dean Mumm, Angus Ta’avao. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4). Penalty: Foley.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Try: Dries Swanepoel. Penalty: Tian Schoeman.