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Ken Borland


Bulls score 56 & concede 35, except this time they remain in firm control as they hammer Benetton

Posted on May 18, 2024 by Ken

Kurt-Lee Arendse (right) had a superb game, highlighting not just his speed and stepping ability, but also his strength. Photo: Backpage Pix

Bulls coach Jake White was delighted by his team’s attacking expertise and once again perplexed by why they allowed the opposition to score so many points, except this time his side remained in firm control of the match as they hammered Benetton Treviso 56-35 in their United Rugby Championship match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

The Bulls were often sublime with ball-in-hand, scoring nine tries, but they did concede five tries to Benetton, with the Italian side not hiding their happiness with what could be an important point for their playoff qualification hopes.

An exceptional first half-hour saw the Bulls thunder to a 26-0 lead, a precise kicking game, powerful scrum, mauling, dominance on the gainline and a slick backline all combining seamlessly. They were then 31-7 up as halftime beckoned, but they allowed Benetton to score on the hooter and then also conceded the first try of the second half as the Italians threatened to replicate what Glasgow Warriors did last week by getting back into the game at 21-31 down.

But this time the Bulls kept scoring points in the second half, crossing for four more tries while Benetton tried everything to get the four-try bonus point. Although they succeeded, the Bulls made it hard enough for them that they never looked in danger of losing.

“I’m very happy with the five points and at times we looked like the best team in the competition. But I guess the question is how did we leak five tries? I don’t think it was because of a lack of work-rate, not a system error and not due to game-understanding. I think we just do things that help the opposition into places they want to be. We almost think we can score from anywhere, maybe we should talk more about game-management or turnover-control at training,” White mused after the emphatic victory that temporarily lifted his team into second on the log.

“You need to defend well if you’re going to win championships, but you need to score points too. One constant about rugby is that the team that scores the most points always finishes near the top of the log. If we keep scoring lots of points, it means to beat us the opposition must score 50 and that creates pressure.

“But I still want us to be a tougher defensive side and not allow the opposition to score easily due to our mistakes or the situations we put ourselves in. The shape of our attack was very good, but the one thing we lack is that edge on defence, that ruthlessness that does not allow the other team to score. But I will take the opposition having to score more than 30 points to win every week of the season.

“Last week we were like deer in the headlights, there was almost panic, but this week we continued to score points. Last week it was almost as if we tried to defend the 37-10 score and it almost came back to bite us. But today we had much more control and we showed much more understanding that we needed to tighten up.

“I’m also looking for the ‘why?’. Maybe it’s because we try so hard to score great tries that maybe we create pressure for ourselves. I also think that for two weeks in a row we’ve played against teams that really wanted to score four tries. There’s no doubt Benetton needed to get something out of the game and it would have been much more difficult for them to get a bonus point by keeping us to less than an eight-point winning margin.

“So I’m not worried and there is no reason for us to go away from what is working. Hopefully the mental attitude will be there and there will be more grunt when it is a do-or-die defensive set in a knockout game. The captain [Elrigh Louw] gave his word that they will do it and I don’t doubt that they will,” White said.

The Bulls began the game with a show of force that a Chinese military display would have battled to match in terms of precision and shock-awe value. A bang-on-target kick and chase forced a knock-on inside the Benetton 22, the Bulls dominated the scrum and then won a ruck penalty. The lineout was set and then the maul, and then the ball went out to wing Canan Moodie, who snaked through the defence to score the opening try after three minutes.

The Bulls’ other wing, Kurt-Lee Arendse is diminutive and has the face of an angel, but the Springbok star showed his hard, ruthless edge as he then set up the second try and scored the third. A quick lineout taken on the halfway line was followed by Arendse making a great run down the left and then passing inside for centre David Kriel to score in the 17th minute.

Three minutes later, Arendse brilliantly won an up-and-under and, quick as a flash, scrumhalf Embrose Papier kicked over the ruck to win a marvellous 50/22. The Bulls quickly went wide from the lineout and Arendse then fought this way through four tackles to score, showing he is not just a stepper and dasher, but also a finisher of great strength.

Willie le Roux has come to Loftus Versfeld for more than a few rand, and the Springbok legend showed why as his break and mazy run, followed by a super inside-pass, sent lock Ruan Nortje galloping over for the Bulls’ fourth try.

At 26-0 down, Benetton had a mountain to climb. They had been terrible in terms of defence and discipline in the opening quarter, but they showed admirable tenacity in fighting their way back into the game through tries by wing Onisi Ratave, hooker Gianmarco Lucchesi and scrumhalf Andy Uren.

The Bulls touched the heights one more time in the first half, however, as loose forward Louw’s lovely pop-pass backwards out of contact found inside centre Harold Vorster, who knifed through the defensive line and set up the easiest of run-ins for Moodie, scoring his second try.

The way the Bulls repelled the Benetton comeback in the second half suggested a breakthrough in terms of game-management. They focused on continuing to keep the opposition in their territory with their kicking game, forcing Benetton to attack from deep.

Another good up-and-under from Papier earned a penalty for obstruction and hooker Akker van der Merwe scored from the lineout maul. Four minutes later, a long pass inside their own half went to ground in the Benetton backline, and Kriel pounced, powering away for his second try as he continues to impress in what may be a breakthrough season for the 25-year-old.

Another atypical moment of defensive softness by Benetton, one of the best defensive sides in the competition, then allowed Bulls flyhalf Johan Goosen to just run at them from a scrum, bursting through and then offloading to Kriel, who then fed Moodie out wide for a an easy run-in for his hat-trick of tries.

At 48-28 up, the Bulls made the iconoclastic decision to kick a penalty for poles and replacement flyhalf Chris Smith succeeded from long range, and although Benetton grabbed their fifth try, the Bulls had the final say. Louw surged forward from quick ball off the top of a lineout, getting into the five-metre zone; from there the Bulls just recycled the ball across the field until the opposition ran out of numbers and replacement hooker Johan Grobbelaar reached over to score.

With their electrifying backline and a pack that just swarms over the contact points, White has reason to be encouraged by the progress his team has made.

“Last season we finished seventh and now the worst we can finish this time is fourth, so we have a home quarterfinal. So there’s no doubt there’s been improvement, we still have a ticket in the knockouts so there is still hope. The challenge now is to get it right on four successive weekends,” White said.

Scorers

Bulls: Tries – Canan Moodie (3), David Kriel (2), Kurt-Lee Arendse, Ruan Nortje, Akker van der Merwe, Johan Grobbelaar. Conversions – Johan Goosen (4). Penalty – Chris Smith.

Benetton Treviso: Tries – Onisi Ratave, Gianmarco Lucchesi, Andy Uren, Toa Halafihi, Marco Zanon. Conversions – Rhyno Smith (5).

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