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Ken Borland


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Bulls score 56 & concede 35, except this time they remain in firm control as they hammer Benetton 0

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).

‘New Bulls’ march into quarterfinals by thumping Olympique Lyon 0

Posted on April 06, 2024 by Ken

Willie le Roux celebrates his try against Olympique Lyon.

The Bulls marched into the quarterfinals of the Champions Cup on Saturday with a thumping 59-19 win over Olympique Lyon at Loftus Versfeld, and it was the ‘New Bulls’ who did it, playing with wonderful attacking spark and really keeping the ball alive.

The traditional way of winning knockout games for the Bulls has been through subduing the opposition through power – using their physicality to dominate the gainline, scrum and maul to win penalties and then play off a traditionally brilliant lineout.

But on Saturday, kicking off at 1.30pm at altitude on a sunny day, they used the conditions to their advantage and unlocked the ball-playing, attacking skills that are also prevalent in their squad. Make no mistake, the physicality was still there, bossing the gainline and using aggressive defence to force turnovers, which they were impressive in turning into attacking opportunities.

The Bulls scored nine tries and the inventiveness and skill of the backline was marvellous to behold, even if at times some over-ambitious play led to the match being scrappy.

“We scored some outstanding tries and we’ve seen the Bulls go from a scrumming and mauling team to the type of rugby we played today,” coach Jake White said. “I’m very pleased that we are able to interchange the way we play, today we used playing on the Highveld and the playing surface to our advantage.

“We wanted to move them around and the French teams do tend to play scrappy rugby, but we also wanted to do it with control, use the altitude and their travel against them. There probably were times when we were a bit too loose.

“But we did what Leinster did to us last weekend and that’s go up a gear in the second half, we definitely replicated that. Sometimes we kicked the ball away too much in the first half, but in the second half you see the tries we scored because we kept the ball in hand. That try from our own line, where practically everyone touched the ball and we scored under the poles, was probably the try of the season and it showed we can play in different ways,” White said.

New talent was also to the fore with wing Sebastian de Klerk scoring twice, 21-year-old Reinhardt Ludwig having a strong game at blindside flank and 19-year-old JF van Heerden starting with aplomb at lock, Ruan Nortje being pulled 10 minutes before the start due to injury.

The 54th-minute try the Bulls scored to stretch their lead to 38-14 was probably the finished article in terms of how White wanted his team to play in favourable conditions.

Eighthman Elrigh Louw ran from his own five-metre line, Kurt-Lee Arendse typically provided a proper counter-attacking spark, there was great support from replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe, props Mornay Smith and Gerhard Steenekamp were involved too, there was a strong run from Ludwig and then scrumhalf Embrose Papier rounded off.

Despite the emphatic win, White said the Bulls, as a team, are not the finished article just yet.

“Last season we were knocked over away from home by Toulouse in the last 16, and then a year later we are hosting that game, which is already an improvement, and we won so now we’ve reached another level: the top eight.

“I’m very happy and proud, but I’m also fully aware what sort of teams have won this competition. If we play the top team in England next – Northampton Saints – then it will be there at 8pm, it might be rainy and cold, very different to the sun shining at Loftus at 1.30pm.

“But it’s teams that can adapt that win this competition. We are not there yet and I’m not saying we have the recipe. It’s a learning and growing path and the quicker we complete it the better,” White said.

Scorers

Bulls – Tries: Sebastian de Klerk (2), Embrose Papier (2), Marcell Coetzee, Ruan Vermaak, Willie le Roux, David Kriel, Chris Smith. Conversions: Johan Goosen (5), Smith (2).

Olympique Lyon – Tries: Martin Page-Relo, penalty try, Thaakir Abrahams. Conversion: Paddy Jackson.

Bulls listed in last 16 of Champions Cup after good win, but made life hard for themselves 0

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).

Powell stays at Kings Park base but optimistic Sharks stand-ins will return from Galway with the points 0

Posted on November 08, 2023 by Ken

Sharks head coach Neil Powell has stayed behind at the team’s Kings Park base but is optimistic that his stand-in, Currie Cup mentor Joey Mongalo, will be able to return from Galway with the points although they are taking on tricky Connacht with a second-string side.

While Powell and most of the first-choice stars in the Sharks squad are focusing on the crucial Champions Cup match against Bordeaux-Begles next week, just three Springboks are in the squad to play Connacht, with three potential URC debutants on the bench.

Ntuthuko Mchunu will anchor the scrum (with Carlu Sadie), Rohan Janse van Rensburg will bring plenty of punch to the midfield, and scrumhalf Grant Williams is a potentially lethal substitute.

Former Free State Cheetahs lock Ockie Barnard, Currie Cup utility forward Corne Rahl and former Westville Boys High centre Ethan Hooker could be thrown into the deep end, with The Sports Ground being a daunting venue to play, especially in midwinter. Young Nevaldo Fleurs is the starting flyhalf, with Lionel Cronje on the bench.

“We see this as an all-round opportunity to develop and Joey has the chance to show what he is capable of. He’s been at that level before as the Bulls’ defence coach,” director of rugby Powell said on Friday.

“Joey is a great person and coach, he’s full of energy and I know he will definitely motivate and fire up the guys. We have tasked them with coming back with the points.

“It’s important for us to manage our squad well, this selection is part of our rotation policy. If I look at our travel schedule over the next few weeks then I cannot imagine one team playing all those games.

“We want as much as energy as possible when we get to games 10 and 11 of this block, this is number seven, so we’re in the middle of it. We also want to create squad depth,” Powell said.

Before the Sharks eventually disband on February 4 for a one-week break, they host Bordeaux in the Champions Cup in Durban next weekend, and then travel to Harlequins. They return to URC action against Edinburgh on January 28, before returning home for a vital home derby against the Stormers on February 3.

Connacht are up first though and they are a difficult team to break down, especially at home.

“It’s a tough place to play, a lot of teams go there with strong teams, hoping for a win, but they don’t get it,” Powell said. “You have to battle it out for the full 80 minutes against Connacht.

“In a lot of games they have come back to win in the last 20 minutes, so we have to make sure we don’t tap out before the final whistle.

“They are very physical and really direct and they don’t go away. They manage the game well, especially with their kicking, and they are familiar with their own conditions and play towards that.”

Sharks: Anthony Volmink, Yaw Penxe, Murray Koster, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, Marnus Pogieter, Nevaldo Fleurs, Cameron Wright, Celimpilo Gumede, Henco Venter, James Venter, Reniel Hugo (c), Thembelani Bholi, Carlu Sadie, Fez Mbatha, Ntuthuko Mchunu. Bench – Kerron van Vuuren, Dian Bleuler, Khutha Mchunu, Ockie Barnard, Corne Rahl, Grant Williams, Lionel Cronje, Ethan Hooker.

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