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Ken Borland



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’ attacking seeds bear fruit as they thump Cardiff 0

Posted on April 04, 2023 by Ken

The Bulls planted plenty of attacking seeds and the important ones bore fruit as they showed they remain one of the best sides in the United Rugby Championship at home, thumping Cardiff 45-9 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.

Cardiff were certainly more competitive than the scoreline suggests, but they lacked the same ability to convert chances in the 22, while the Bulls also deserve credit for a stout defensive effort.

But it was the Bulls attack that will be the focus as they scored six tries to stay fourth on the URC log. Not every pass stuck for the Bulls though, there were plenty of handling errors, but they won comfortably just through the sheer number of chances the combination of strong forward carries and a dashing, inventive backline creates.

The Bulls took a while to find their flow and Cardiff were leading 6-3 as the half-hour approached through two Jarrod Evans penalties. But when the home side finally managed to hang on to possession for several phases, fullback Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie combined superbly to send the wing over for the opening try. Their work in tandem was beautiful to watch right through the match.

Another Evans penalty meant the Bulls were only 10-9 ahead as halftime approached, but the home side made a crucial strike on the hooter as they won a scrum penalty, set the lineout and flyhalf Johan Goosen put Arendse over for the try.

The Bulls, leading 17-9 at the break, continued to gain great dividends from their combination of power and pace and flair in the second half.

Goosen split the defence and scored three minutes after halftime as the Bulls took firm control with a 24-9 lead. They were on the back foot for the next 15 minutes, but dug in in defence, with Cardiff’s maul a threat, but a weapon they failed to capitalise on through their own errors.

The Bulls then buried Cardiff in the final quarter with three more tries. Penetrative eighthman Elrigh Louw made big inroads off the back of a lineout, lock Ruan Nortje then crashing over for the try.

Arendse then produced a lovely little dink-kick over the top of the defensive line for Moodie to score his second try, while Louw scored a deserved try with three minutes remaining as he went over from a brilliantly-deceptive splinter-maul.

Scorers

Bulls: Tries – Canan Moodie (2), Kurt-Lee Arendse, Johan Goosen, Ruan Nortje, Elrigh Louw. Conversions – Goosen (5), Chris Smith. Penalty – Goosen.

Cardiff: Penalties – Jarrod Evans (3).

Bulls could call Van Staden back into service v Cardiff 0

Posted on February 28, 2023 by Ken

The Bulls could well call Springbok openside flank Marco van Staden back into service against Cardiff on Saturday night as they look to put more defensive pressure on the opposition, but changing the balance of their loose trio could also affect their attacking play, which was so impressive in the first half of last weekend’s match against the Ospreys.

With Nizaam Carr, wearing the No.6 jersey, linking superbly with the backline, the Bulls ran in seven tries. But they also conceded four and assistant coach Pine Pienaar said on Tuesday that they were looking at ways of putting more defensive pressure on Cardiff.

“In the first half against Ospreys, we made a really good start, but in the second half we lost a bit of momentum, we struggled to put pressure on them,” Pienaar said.

“So how we can still build pressure in the game, like we did in the first half, is something we’re really working on, doing it better in the second half, with or without the ball.

“We need to be able to see it out defensively if we’re in our half, create pressure and get the turnover. We’re definitely looking at defensively trying to build more pressure and then using the turnover ball.

“In the first half we defended well, we were good at the breakdown, we got turnover ball and we could attack. We need to get things balanced in terms of defence.

“It’s great to have Marco van Staden back, he’s been training today [Tuesday]. But we must also compliment Nizaam on a good outing, and Cyle Brink is back from injury.

“It’s nice to have these players back when Marcell Coetzee moved on and they made a statement. We’ve got the players to do the job,” Pienaar said.

Cardiff, as they showed in overwhelming the Sharks last weekend, will bring a mighty pack to Loftus Versfeld and Pienaar said the Bulls will have to improve on their showing against Ospreys to maintain their unbeaten record at home this season.

“Cardiff are so experienced, especially up front. They are a quality side with a good set-piece, big carriers and their halfbacks drive the game perfectly. They played a superbly-balanced game against the Sharks.

“Their home ground is a 4G pitch so they are also used to a fast game and they have special individual players. There is a lot of stuff we will have to be better at against such a quality side.

“I think it will be a humdinger and we will have to be spot-on to win,” Pienaar said.

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