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Ken Borland


Bulls listed in last 16 of Champions Cup after good win, but made life hard for themselves

Posted on January 21, 2024 by Ken

Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee carried strongly and scored two tries as his team overcame Bordeaux-Begles to ensure a place in the last 16 of the Champions Cup.
Photo: Christiaan Kotze (Gallo Images)

A 46-40 victory over group winners Bordeaux-Begles has ensured the Bulls will be listed in the final 16 of the Champions Cup, and coach Jake White is delighted by that, but he did admit to being a little bemused by how hard they made life for themselves at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday afternoon.

The Bulls scored six tries, some of them absolutely brilliant, with flank Marcell Coetzee going over twice and wing Devon Williams, centre David Kriel, fullback Willie le Roux and scrumhalf Embrose Papier, with a superb individual effort, also getting on the try-scorers’ list. Flyhalf Johan Goosen converted five of the tries and his replacement, Jaco van der Walt, kicked two crucial late penalties.

Bordeaux-Begles also scored six tries, taking two bonus points from the match, which was enough to confirm they will finish top of the group.

The Bulls twice found themselves in a rock-solid position of dominance, leading 21-7 after 26 minutes and then 40-21 after 53 minutes, but on both occasions their concentration and game-management wobbled and they ended up letting the quality Bordeaux side back in the game.

It was the home side’s replacements who saw out the final quarter, their strong ball-carrying earning them the two penalties that enabled them to just hold off the French challenge.

“We did make it difficult for ourselves and maybe at halftime we started to think about winning by 36 points because that would have seen us top the pool if Bordeaux didn’t get any bonus points,” White admitted afterwards.

“Maybe we were seduced into that style of play, it became like a sevens game and that probably helped Bordeaux, who are a good team. This is such a big competition and there are very small margins, those are the things we need to be sharper on.

“But I can’t be cross with the team, we had four forwards under the age of 22. This is the next step to Test rugby and the only way the team is going to learn to cope with these sort of situations is by going through it. We need to be more streetwise, but that comes with time. When we have our debrief, we’ll look at what some of the best options should have been.

“But I’m obviously still very proud of the win and scoring 46 points versus Bordeaux, they don’t often concede that many and they have been dominant in France. So I’m happy and it’s nice to learn when you’ve won,” White said.

The Bulls gave the visitors, on an eight-match winning streak, a ferocious welcome as eighthman Cameron Hanekom was ruled to have just lost the ball over the line and tighthead prop Carlu Sadie was yellow-carded for a ruck offence. After seven minutes, the Bulls were finally on the board as Coetzee went over from a tap-penalty.

Bordeaux equalised six minutes later when fullback Romain Buros knifed through to score, but the Bulls then thrilled the crowd of more than 10 000 with a superbly-executed try off a lineout. Strong carries by hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels and lock Ruan Nortje were followed by a lovely pass out wide from Goosen to Williams, who scampered over for the try.

Coetzee forced his way over for a second try on 26 minutes, but in the last 10 minutes, the Bulls had to call on all their scrambling ability in defence as Bordeaux put them under severe pressure following prop Gerhard Steenekamp’s yellow card for ruck offences.

The Bulls did concede a try to lock Adam Coleman, but half-time beckoned with them still in the lead, 21-14, and then they added a vital score against the run of play. Stedman Gans sparked the counter with a half-break and lovely offload to Le Roux, who was through the gap in a flash and then threw a pinpoint pass to Kriel, who went all the way from long range.

The 26-14 lead would have pleased White, and the try that opened the second half would have delighted him even more. Goosen produced a brilliant up-and-under despite being under big pressure from two defenders, wing Sebastian de Klerk made a fine aerial win and Kriel then made the initial break before Le Roux was, as is his trademark, in the right place at the right time to score.

Papier’s try was a brilliant piece of individual play as his team presented him with untidy, backfoot ball, but the scrumhalf spotted a hole in the defence and raced through it before swerving past the cover defence to dot down.

But White would have then been po-faced as Bordeaux scored three times in the next 15 minutes. But the smile was back as his team held on for a good win.

With Saracens beating Olympique Lyon later on Saturday night, the Bulls remained second in the final group standings and will have a home match in the last 16.

Ironically, White believes finishing second and getting a home match in the last 16 could boomerang on the Bulls.

“I would love to have a home knockout game in this competition, but that means we will play Dragons and Leinster away in the URC, come back for a home last-16 Champions Cup match and then an away quarterfinal before coming back to Loftus to play Munster.

“It will be helluva tough flying back and forth like that. But the nice thing is it shows the improvement and growth we’ve had in the Champions Cup. There is belief that we can win it, but we also need to understand that the big guns are now coming.

“It will be teams where 20 of the 23 are internationals playing against youngsters who are still growing and learning the ropes. I’m a realist and this competition now goes on steroids,” White said.

Scorers

BullsTries: Marcell Coetzee (2), Devon Williams, David Kriel, Willie le Roux, Embrose Papier. Conversions: Johan Goosen (5). Penalties: Jaco van der Walt (2).

Bordeaux-BeglesTries: Romain Buros, Adam Coleman, Madosh Tambwe, Tevita Tatafu (2), Paul Adadie. Conversions: Zack Holmes (3), Mateo Garcia (2).

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