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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.


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).

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.

SA World Cup misfortune: When rain has previously impeded the Proteas 0

Posted on January 13, 2023 by Ken

South Africa’s misfortune at cricket world cups is well known and the nation’s cursed luck struck again in their opening T20 World Cup match in Hobart this week when they were forced to share the points with Zimbabwe after rain washed out play with the Proteas needing just 13 runs in four overs to win.

Here are three other times rain has impeded South Africa at cricket world cups –

March 22, 1992 in Sydney

South Africa was heading towards democracy and euphoria was gripping the nation as the team marched into the semi-finals of their first World Cup. But the nation’s hopes were dashed as, chasing 253 to win in 45 overs, South Africa reached 231/6 off 42.5 overs when rain arrived.

Brian McMillan and Dave Richardson had already added 25, but when play resumed, the weird rules for adjusted targets (the team batting first had their lowest-scoring overs taken off the total), and the TV cut-off time meant South Africa needed 21 runs off the last ball, their adjusted target being 252 in 43 overs.

Many believe this is when South Africa’s World Cup curse began.

March 3, 2003 in Durban

There were high hopes for South Africa as the 2003 World Cup was held there following their exit in 1999 in an epic semi-final tie with Australia. But this time they failed to progress out of the group stages, ironically again due to a tie in what would be their last match. There was rain around Kingsmead as they chased 269 to beat Sri Lanka and, with Mark Boucher and captain Shaun Pollock at the crease in the closing stages, the sheets for the Duckworth/Lewis targets were brought out to them and also Lance Klusener when Pollock was run out. But what nobody realised was the number printed on the paper was the par score, so South Africa needed one more run to win. Boucher, thinking they had done enough to win, blocked what would turn out to be the last ball as the heavens opened. Why nobody realised the mistake and who was to blame – Pollock, Boucher, coach Eric Simons or the manager? – were questions that tortured local fans for weeks.

March 24, 2015 in Auckland

Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers were going great guns in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, having added 102 for the fourth wicket in less than 12 overs and with 12 overs remaining to add to their total of 216/3. And then the rain came.

Du Plessis gloved a hook down the leg-side off the second ball back and vital momentum was lost with the Proteas finishing on 281/5 in 43 overs.

Duckworth/Lewis credited them with some extra runs though and New Zealand were set 298 to win in 43 overs. It is only befitting of a World Cup curse that it was a South African born player, Grant Elliott, who lashed 84 not out off 73 balls to eliminate his former compatriots. What could have been if there had been no rain delay?

So near and yet so far for Boks 0

Posted on December 01, 2022 by Ken

So near and yet so far is probably an apt summation of the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign, and there is a lingering feeling that Jacques Nienaber’s team are still not playing to their true potential and are still not ruthless enough when it comes to translating dominance to points on the scoreboard.

And their next opponents, on November 5 and 12 respectively, are Ireland in Dublin and France in Marseille. Those are the top two sides in the world rankings and then we will have a better idea of whether South Africa are genuine World Cup contenders or just also-rans in a southern hemisphere competition that is no longer the gold standard of international rugby.

Having hammered the All Blacks in Nelspruit on the opening weekend, the Springboks really only have themselves to blame for not winning the Rugby Championship for just the fifth time.

Their first misjudgement lies squarely on Nienaber (and maybe director of rugby Rassie Erasmus) for not choosing the best XV to play New Zealand the following weekend at Ellis Park. The All Blacks were in disarray and ripe for the taking after their 26-10 defeat at Mbombela Stadium. When your greatest rivals are on their knees, you don’t experiment and give them a helping hand, you ruthlessly turn the knife and ensure they sack their coach mid-competition.

Instead, Ian Foster’s men bounced back with an impressive win, the ship was steadied and, despite an historic first loss at home to Argentina, they were worthy winners of the Rugby Championship.

Having lost to the Pumas 25-18 in Christchurch, New Zealand then thrashed them 53-3 the following weekend in Hamilton, the result that ultimately won them the title, because it left the Springboks needing a bonus point and turning around a big points differential in the final round to claim the silverware.

It is that kind of ruthlessness, the ability to really put opposition away, that the Springboks lack. The last time they scored 40 points in the Rugby Championship, never mind winning by a margin of 39, was back in August 2019 against Argentina.

I get that Test matches cannot always be like a commercial for open, running rugby, but the great sides are able to leverage dominance and make it reflect on the scoreboard. And there have been periods when the Springboks have enjoyed an absolute monopoly on momentum, but just did not have the execution or intent to make it count.

In the last match against Argentina, I would have liked to have seen the Springboks try and play some expansive rugby. They had nothing to lose – even if they lost, they still would have finished second.

But with crash-ball centres at numbers 10 and 12 and the creativity of Lukhanyo Am missed at outside centre, the Springboks still just relied on their usual formula of scoring from set-pieces and rolling mauls.

They were not helped by a referee, Damon Murphy, who was determined to be in the middle of the limelight. If you are going to steal the show, at least make sure you are competent, but Murphy and his officiating team made a series of terrible decisions that robbed South Africa of momentum.

From winning the World Cup in 2019, the Springboks no longer seem to be the leaders of the pack. I don’t see much growth, especially in terms of their attacking play, since those heady days in Japan. The opposition will have had four years to work out how to blunt South Africa’s forward-based, strangling game of stout defence and contestable kicking, and the Boks better have more strings to their bow if they hope to defend their title.

Perhaps Nienaber, an inexperienced head coach maybe in Erasmus’s shadow, has tried too hard to prove he is the man and is too prescriptive in terms of the style of play. While throttling the opposition has worked, one wonders if the Springboks are not strangling their own potential in the process?

Let’s hope they express themselves more in Europe.

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