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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).

JSK in tatters, bowled out in 15.2 overs, SEC in qualifiers 0

Posted on January 31, 2024 by Ken

Daniel Worrall was the chief destroyer for the Sunrisers Eastern Cape at the Wanderers.
Photo: Arjun Singh

The Joburg Super Kings were bundled out in just 15.2 overs for 78 – the second-lowest total in SA20 history – as they were thrashed by the Sunrisers Eastern Cape at the Wanderers on Wednesday evening, coach Stephen Fleming once again expressing his disappointment over the pitch.

Sent in to bat, the Super Kings lost both Faf du Plessis and Reeza Hendricks to the outstanding Daniel Worrall (4-0-20-3) for ducks in the second over. Moeen Ali also made a duck and Leus du Plooy (18), Wayne Madsen (32 off 23) and new Kiwi recruit Doug Bracewell (12) were the only batsmen to reach double figures against an attack that was not necessarily inspired, but certainly very disciplined and controlled.

The Sunrisers then knocked off their target in just 11 overs to earn a bonus point win, Dawid Malan scoring 40 not out off 32 balls and Tom Abell an undefeated 26 off 20 deliveries, assuring the defending champions of a place in the qualifiers.

“I love this competition, it is outstanding. Short and intense, although that does make the travel tough, and the support is tremendous. But the pitches have dropped off a bit from last year. We are in the entertainment business, I don’t mind the ball dominating every now and then, but we have to make sure there is a balance,” Fleming said after the Super Kings’ third loss in four matches at home.

“Today in particular was not great for the product, which is a pity because this is a great place to play. We’re struggling to read the pitch and there is an advantage to bowling first. The ball sits up and creates problems.

“Each surface here we have struggled to understand. The pitch seems to be transforming, it was slowish last year but now it is somewhere in between that and the traditional Wanderers wicket that flies through.

“We bought tall fast bowlers in the auction and it’s been disappointing because the real character of this pitch is being lost. We need to pivot quickly, but today was one of those days we nicked everything, on both sides of the wicket. And then you see how many times we go past the bat and you just have to shake your head,” Fleming said.

The Joburg Super Kings are in the fourth and final qualification place on 13 points at the moment and have one match remaining – against the high-flying Durban Super Giants at the Wanderers on Saturday. With the Pretoria Capitals and MI Cape Town three and four points in arrears respectively, and playing each other twice before the end of the round-robin, JSK have to beat the top-of-the-log KwaZulu-Natalians on Saturday to have any chance of progressing.

“It’s thanks to the nature of this year’s tournament that we are still alive and the scenarios are right in front of us, but unfortunately our fate is out of our control. We will be doing lots of mental work over the next few days.

“Luck wasn’t with us today, but some people will say maybe we should have been more defensive, but then you can become too cautious. Sometimes you just have to bluff confidence and step forward. You can’t over-analyse days like this,” the highly-lauded former New Zealand captain said.

Madsen, Moeen and Donovan Ferreira (8) were all caught down the leg-side, the sort of thing that happens to a batting line-up low on confidence and perhaps wishing they didn’t have to play at home.

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).

SA rugby forever bonded with Kitch’s ‘high or low road’, but Jake says it’s too early for that 0

Posted on September 05, 2023 by Ken

South African rugby will forever be bonded with Kitch Christie’s famous ‘high road or the low road’ scenario before the 1995 World Cup triumph, but Bulls coach Jake White says it is still too early to consider his team as being at a similar crossroads ahead of their crunch United Rugby Championship match against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

Coach Christie said it was crucial that the Springboks beat defending champions and favourites Australia in the opening match of the 1995 World Cup and take the “high road” through the tournament; defeat would mean the “low road” requiring victories over England and New Zealand before the final. South Africa pulled off a sensational 28-18 win, setting them up for an unbeaten run through the tournament they hosted.

The Bulls, having lost last weekend to the Stormers in Cape Town, are now five points behind the defending champions in the South African Shield, having played an extra game. If the Sharks beat the Bulls with a bonus point at Kings Park, then they could be within another bonus-point win of the Pretoria side, with a game in hand.

But White, who has called the late Christie his mentor, is not stressing about the log at this stage.

“We’re not at the high road or low road point yet and it’s not a do-or-die game,” White said on Friday. “It’s still so open, although we do know Leinster are the pace-setters, they always have been.

“We beat the Sharks with a bonus point at Loftus, and if the Sharks beat the Stormers twice and we win this weekend, then we would be favourites again to win the conference.

“There are still a lot of permutations between now and the end of the tournament, and not every team will win every game at home. Winning a couple of matches away is the premium.

“But we will be up against one of the strongest provincial sides, although one thing I enjoy about the URC is that a team can beat anyone on any given Saturday. That’s exciting,” White said.

Nine current Springboks is what the Bulls, who will field Johan Goosen at fullback and Chris Smith at flyhalf, are up against. The combination of Smith and Goosen played in the pivotal game-management positions when the Bulls beat the Sharks 40-27 at Loftus Versfeld at the end of October, which is why White has made that selection again.

“The last time we played the Sharks we did that and it worked well, and we didn’t have Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie then,” White said. “It means we have two kickers and two passers and can move the ball away from flyhalf.

“I’ve heard it might rain in Durban too and the Sharks don’t play much in their own half, they have a good kicking game and Makazole Mapimpi is very good in the air.

“But it’s not just a reaction to them, it worked for us at home and it gives us two guys who understand how we want to play. It’s important that Bernard van der Linde can also kick with both feet at scrumhalf,” White said.

Bulls:Johan Goosen, Canan Moodie, Cornal Hendricks, Harold Vorster, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Chris Smith, Bernard van der Linde, Elrigh Louw, Cyle Brink, Marco Van Staden, Ruan Nortje (c), Ruan Vermaak, Mornay Smith, Johan Grobbelaar, Simphiwe Matanzima. Bench -Jan-Hendrik Wessels, Gerhard Steenekamp, Sebastian Lombard, Janko Swanepoel, Nizaam Carr, Embrose Papier, Lionel Mapoe, David Kriel.

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