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Ken Borland



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).

Beaten Bulls show the spirit that ensures they won’t be temps but contenders in Currie Cup semis 0

Posted on June 12, 2023 by Ken

Cornal Hendricks scored two tries for the Bulls against the Free State Cheetahs.

The Bulls may have scraped into the Currie Cup semi-finals, but the passion and desire they showed in going down 27-31 to the Free State Cheetahs in a match of high drama at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, securing two vital bonus points despite suffering a red card in a moment of temporary madness, means they cannot be considered temps in this competition but genuine contenders.

The Bulls nearly won the match, the final whistle going with their maul four metres from the Cheetahs’ tryline. But by scoring four tries and finishing within seven points of the Free Staters, they earned two invaluable log points that left them on 38 points, two ahead of the Lions and out of reach of Western Province (37pts), despite their thrashing of the Sharks.

Considering they played the entire second half with 14 men after eighthman Elrigh Louw was red-carded in the 38th minute, it was the stoutest of efforts, showing that the Bulls do have that never-say-die quality that will make them very dangerous semi-final opponents. They will play the Cheetahs again this weekend in Bloemfontein, but if the Free Staters underestimate the Bulls based on how they reached the last four, they will tempt fate most foolishly.

Louw was sent from the field after his shoulder made contact with the head of Cheetahs flank Siba Qoma, as he rushed into a ruck and made a clumsy attempt to clean.

By that stage, the Cheetahs had already turned around the momentum after the Bulls made a flying start, rushing into a 19-0 lead in the first quarter. With halftime beckoning, the visitors had closed to 14-19 and had lifted themselves from a lethargic start, really making their presence felt in defence and at the breakdown.

Although flyhalf Morne Steyn, in his farewell game at Loftus Versfeld, kicked a 42nd-minute penalty to stretch the lead to 22-14, the Cheetahs took control of the match as they scored two tries in five minutes to open up a 28-22 lead.

Excellent flyhalf Siya Masuku, who will be in Sharks’ colours next season, seemed to be clothing himself in either a cloak of invisibility or the most slippery substance known to man as he weaved his way through the heart of the Bulls team to score an exceptional try. Masuku succeeded with the conversion too, as he did with all four of his other kicks at goal.

In the 49th minute, hooker Marnus van der Merwe, who was like a bull in a china shop, produced another storming run that left him just short of the line, but scrumhalf Rewan Kruger picked up the ball and dived over to score.

It was not as if the Cheetahs closed up shop then either, but the Bulls just upped their game with sheer desperation. They too scrambled in defence against a team that is always so dangerous with ball-in-hand.

Masuku had the final say with a 71st-minute penalty won at a ruck, but the Bulls were up close in their rearview mirrors throughout the final quarter.

Replacement flyhalf Chris Smith was brought into action in the 54th minute as Steyn departed his home ground for the last time. The Springbok flyhalf had been more inspirational in his running of the backline than with the boot, missing three of his six kicks at goal.

It was Smith’s boot that ultimately put the Bulls into the semi-finals as, with the ferocious Cheetahs defence in his face and cutting him off from his centres, he put the deftest of crosskicks into the corner for wing Cornal Hendricks to score his second try. It was also the fourth for his team, bringing the first bonus point, and it dragged the home side back to within one point of the Free Staters, setting up a second log point.

The other legend being farewelled, hooker Bismarck du Plessis, came off the bench and had a big impact in the closing stages, both in the set-pieces and in bringing some added presence at the rucks.

The Bulls had begun the match in inspired fashion with three tries in the first 14 minutes.

Fullback Johan Goosen’s prowess in the air allowed the Bulls to attack the blindside and, with the Cheetahs defence slow to react, outside centre Stedman Gans was able to put Hendricks away for the opening try.

Two minutes later, Free State dropped the ball in their backline and wing David Kriel pounced, swivelling out of a tackle and then passing to centre Harold Vorster, who was quickly up in support and raced away for the second try.

The third try went to scrumhalf Embrose Papier, who is in such great form at the moment, but it is doubtful whether he will be able to play in the semi-final due to a hamstring injury. He sidestepped a defender and streaked away for a try after Ruan Vermaak’s super offload, the lock having burst clear after Steyn put him in a hole with a skip-pass.

The Cheetahs were very competitive in the scrums and they opened their account after getting a penalty there and going for a lineout deep in Bulls’ territory. Van der Merwe burst clear from the maul and then the similarly-built centre David Brits muscled over for the try.

Their second try also came off a lineout, but this time with a slick backline move, fullback Tapiwa Mafura dummying and then breaking the line, wing Daniel Kasende then providing a strong finish.

Given the quality the Cheetahs showed, the 14-man Bulls were just relieved to still be in the running for the Currie Cup crown.

“The team showed a lot of character and desire because the game could really have got away from us,” assistant coach Hugo van As said after the game. “We still had two or three opportunities to win right at the end, a great chance with our maul.

“But you’ve got to give the Cheetahs great credit for the way they stopped our maul and the breakdown was a big concern for us as well. We were beaten there, they came really hard at us and disrupted a lot of our plays.

“We’ve got to adapt on the day and make sure we look after our ball better. We saw in the first 20 minutes that when we get it right then we can score tries, it was a huge positive to see the interplay between forwards and backs.

“The team desperately want to send Morne and Bismarck off with a win and there is still a lot to play for. The hunger and desire is there to go further, we just need to be more clinical and make better decisions,” Van As said.

Scorers

Bulls: Tries – Cornal Hendricks (2), Harold Vorster, Embrose Papier. Conversions – Morne Steyn (2). Penalty – Steyn.

Free State Cheetahs: Tries – David Brits, Daniel Kasende, Siya Masuku, Rewan Kruger. Conversions – Masuku (4). Penalty – Masuku.

Bulls dominate the battle of sibling rivals … but change has to come at Loftus 0

Posted on May 15, 2023 by Ken

Eighthman Elrigh Louw was prominent as the Bulls rebounded with a convincing victory over the tough Griquas team in Kimberley.

Given that many of the Griquas players have come through the junior ranks at Loftus Versfeld, last weekend’s Currie Cup clash against the Bulls in Kimberley had all the hallmarks of a sibling rivalry – the big brother from Pretoria trying to quell the upstart youngsters.

Except that the Bulls have been a meek facsimile of their former fearsome selves this season and the quarterfinal exit, via another heavy defeat at the hands of the Stormers, caused much soul-searching at Loftus Versfeld.

The Currie Cup is now their last chance to pull together and try and get something meaningful out of their troubled season. Which makes them dangerous, desperate adversaries, and Griquas had their hands full against a near URC-strength team, going down 40-20. That Bulls side, when on-song, was good enough to finish sixth in the URC and make the last 16 of the Champions Cup.

The fact that the Bulls churn out so many talented youngsters year-after-year, and have dominated recent age-group rugby in South Africa, has caused speculation that director of rugby and head coach Jake White should ditch the players that have misfired this year and embark on a youth policy.

White himself almost bristled at the suggestion, saying the inevitable change that was needed at Loftus was a tricky balancing act between utilising exciting new talent but also ensuring that an experienced core is there to complement them.

“There needs to be change, that’s inevitable, and we also need some fresh energy,” White said. “Some guys have fallen behind and some players are finishing their contracts anyway. Some have said they might want to move elsewhere in South Africa or overseas.

“We are still negotiating with SAREO [South African Rugby Employers’ Organisation] and SA Rugby as to how many contracts we can have. This year we have used nearly sixty players, but we are limited to 55 contracts.

“So it’s a work in progress, it’s very fluid. And you can’t give guys one-year deals because they need stability. There are spaces available in our squad, but then you also need the right players to complement the guys you bring in.

“I would love to keep everyone coming through our system. In the last three years we have had the strongest junior age-groups in the country. But we need 55 players to leave to put all of them into the senior squad and that’s not possible. Not every guy in the junior ranks at Loftus is going to make it in professional rugby. There are only 23 places in the senior team.

“Which is why probably 60% of the Griquas and Pumas teams have come through the Bulls junior system. And those two teams were the Currie Cup finalists last year, which shows the talent we produce.

“We don’t need more juniors in the team and it’s impossible to win anything big when two-thirds of your team are under 24-years-old. We’ve already gone through that at the Bulls.

“Just using players from the junior system is not the solution to the problem, we need to complement them with players from outside. We need to be proactive, not reactive; we need to look for good players with speed and skill and the ability to change the game whatever their position, and more coaches to make the Bulls stronger. As Director of Rugby, I’m very lucky that the Board, the CEO and our owners say we need to compete with the top sides in Europe,” White said.

While there will clearly be changes in playing personnel for the Bulls, White was bullish in terms of his own management, although he did admit that they probably should have planned differently for the Currie Cup. The 59-year-old is confident that with a productive off-season in terms of structural work, the Bulls will return to their efficient selves and meet the ambitious goals of his bosses and the fans.

“Things have been working, I don’t know why some people think I would walk away. We have not done as well as we could, but it has not been a failure of a season and it has not been all bad. No-one from South Africa was able to get through the playoffs of the Champions Cup and we finished sixth in the URC. If that’s a bad year, then we are in a very good position at the Bulls because things will change drastically next season.

“We could have structured the Currie Cup campaign differently, but we take the Currie Cup very seriously and that’s not going to change,” White said.

Sporting success is never an exact science otherwise everyone would have the same winning formula. But something about the mix at Loftus Versfeld, which produced such potent rugby in the last couple of years, is now off. Plus good old-fashioned bad luck and things beyond their control have gone against them.

With all his experience and rugby wisdom, it would be foolish to bet against White ensuring the Bulls make full use of their resources next season to return to a position of dominance in South African rugby.

Bulls not enervated by disjointed, error-ridden start 0

Posted on April 04, 2023 by Ken

The Bulls made a disjointed, error-ridden start to their United Rugby Championship match against Cardiff at Loftus Versfeld at the weekend, but it did not enervate them and coach Jake White was pleased by both their physical dominance and some superb touches on attack.

The Bulls scored six tries in a 45-9 thumping, but Cardiff were certainly more competitive than the scoreline suggests, some stout defence by the home side keeping them away from the tryline.

“In the first half we struggled to get our rhythm, we’d go for two or three phases, but it would be slow, slow ball or we would lose possession or concede a penalty,” White said.

“But we chatted about it at halftime and we decided to stay up a bit longer, don’t go to ground so quickly. But we had to work hard for that result after we gave them a good start.

“In the end we could see the power game come through, which is such a massive part of the Bulls game, but also the subtleties of the attack which was very pleasing to see.

“Some of our best players lost a couple of balls in contact and Cardiff loaded the breakdown really well. But it comes at a cost because if you don’t slow the ball down then there is space to attack out wide,” White said.

And the Bulls certainly had the machinery to take advantage of that space, as the visitors’ challenge faded as they were worn down by the heavy-duty bulldozers in the pack.

“We were able to attack that space out wide as Cardiff got more fatigued,” White said. “Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse played really well together and every time Cardiff kicked on them you sensed something was going to happen.

“And also with Cornal Hendricks, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster and Johan Goosen, who were all on-song tonight, particularly when you give them good ball on the front foot.

“As soon as Goosen could run on to the ball, he opened holes or put other players away. He passed and ran to the line incredibly well, and the more he plays the better he and the players around him will be.

“I’m really excited, we scored lots of tries and we look dangerous every time the backs get the ball. And if you try a lot then you will make a lot of mistakes, but I don’t want the players to go into their shells,” White said.

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