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Ken Borland



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.

Vermeulen sees 100th Test as just another game 0

Posted on October 12, 2021 by Ken

Given the great rivalry that exists between the two teams, it would be stupid not to expect the Springboks to find some extra motivation against the All Blacks in Townsville on Saturday, especially since it is the 100th Test between the only two sides to have won the World Cup three times, but South Africa’s veteran eighthman Duane Vermeulen said on Tuesday that he was approaching the milestone fixture as just another international.

Given their unfocused displays in the last two matches against the Wallabies and Vermeulen’s slow return to full fitness after ankle surgery, it is understandable that the 35-year-old does not want to be distracted by any of the fanfare this week.

“We will take it as just another Test match; yes, it’s the 100th match against the All Blacks, but we want to compete in the Rugby Championship and try and still win that competition. We are playing New Zealand and we will go out and give it our best whatever the occasion; the fact that it is the 100th Test is for the people who write books.

“We can only talk about the ‘now’, the past has gone but we just want to improve on last week. New Zealand play a whole different style of rugby to Australia and we have got to prepare accordingly,” Vermeulen said.

Since the first Test between the teams – coincidentally also 100 years ago on 13 August 1921 in Dunedin (NZ won 13-5), the All Blacks have won 59 times and South Africa have 36 wins, with four matches drawn. But since the return from isolation in 1992, the Springboks have only won 16 of 62 Tests.

Nevertheless, South Africa are still New Zealand’s greatest rivals with the highest winning percentage (36.4%) against them of all opposition. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by Covid, this match is being played in north-eastern Queensland. The Springboks and All Blacks have met at a neutral venue on four occasions, all of them during World Cups, and South Africa’s only win came in Cardiff in 1999, 22-18.

South Africa need to beat New Zealand in successive matches for the first time since winning three in a row in 2009 to regain the Freedom Cup, which the All Blacks took off them in 2010.

Brodie Retallick, the talismanic New Zealand second-rower who has never lost to the Springboks, said his team are certainly embracing the history of the occasion.

“You can’t underestimate them. We’ve talked about the fact that it’s the 100th Test between the two nations and they are the World Cup champions, it’s the first time the All Blacks have played a World Cup champion in a long time. So we’re going out there to give it our best shot and hopefully take it to them.

“Where they’ve caught us the last couple of times, when they did, was through their line-speed defensively. They’ve outmuscled us and we haven’t been able to break them down through our attack and then they’ve punished us. So physically, you’ve always got the set-piece battle but you also have to deal with their line-speed,” Retallick said.

Young Bulls gain huge belief as they edge great rivals 0

Posted on May 23, 2016 by Ken

 

The great provincial rivalry between the north and south was firmly in evidence as the Vodacom Bulls edged out the DHL Stormers 17-13 in their Vodacom SuperRugby match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

In a hard-fought encounter that was an epic for its sheer brutality on the gain-line, it was the Bulls who showed the most steel and this win – against a side that has had the wood over them for the last few years – will no doubt be a massive boost in the growth of the young team coach Nollis Marais is building.

The Bulls had control of the scrums and had the Stormers under constant pressure in the lineouts so, even though the visitors had much more possession, it was the Bulls who were in charge, especially since they refused to yield an inch on the gain-line.

The Stormers looked after the ball better from the opening whistle and they were able to put the first points on the board through a Jean-Luc du Plessis penalty in the second minute.

But the Bulls exerted their dominance in the scrums from the outset and loosehead Oli Kebble went down in the first scrum, giving Francois Brummer the chance to level the scores for the Bulls.

The power-sharing continued for the rest of the first half, as the Stormers built the phases and pressure and the Bulls struggled to exit from their 22, allowing Du Plessis to slot another penalty, while missing another three minutes before halftime.

The Stormers were conceding penalties at the scrum though and losing lineout ball, while Lappies Labuschagne was superb at the breakdown, earning Brummer another penalty, while the Bulls flyhalf also missed an attempt on the half-hour.

The Bulls broke the 6-6 deadlock seven minutes after halftime with an impressive try by scrumhalf Piet van Zyl.

As much as Stormers fullback Cheslin Kolbe deserves respect for his brilliant attacking skills and courage in defence, he is vulnerable when he is isolated and caught with the ball, as happened when the Bulls launched an up-and-under from a free kick straight on to him. Wing Travis Ismaiel chased superbly and monstered Kolbe in the tackle, with eighthman Arno Botha in support to strip the ball off the fullback. Hooker Adriaan Strauss was then on hand to spread the turnover ball wide, centre Jan Serfontein putting in a chip over the scrambling defence that was gathered by fullback SP Marais, who sent Van Zyl racing over for the opening try.

Brummer missed the easy conversion – which in such a tight tiff between arch-rivals could have been crucial – but the Stormers’ breakdown woes did allow the flyhalf to kick a penalty five minutes later to put the Bulls 14-6 ahead.

Du Plessis pulled a penalty wide after the Stormers caused problems with a driving maul, but the visitors came strongly back into the contest with 12 minutes remaining with a try by centre Damian de Allende.

A little shoulder charge by prop Marcel van der Merwe on Schalk Burger – who was never far from the action – led to the penalty that gave the Stormers territory, and they bashed away on the Bulls line until the otherwise superb defence gave De Allende just enough leeway to storm over.

Du Plessis’ conversion made it a one-point game (13-14), but this time there would be no late try from the Stormers to break Bulls’ hearts.

The Bulls went back to the driving maul, made considerable progress, and Tian Schoeman, brought on for Brummer just a few minutes earlier, sent the perfect drop goal flying between the posts.

This meant the Bulls were out of penalty range (17-13) but they dominated the last five minutes in any case. Referee Ben O’Keeffe, who had had a good game until then, then took centre stage as he penalised the dominant Bulls scrum five metres from the Stormers line, missed the duffed quick-tap but then levelled matters by blowing the Stormers up for foot-up at the next scrum.

This win not only breaks a four-match losing streak against the Stormers, but it could also be a watershed moment for a young side that should now have enormous belief.

Scorers

Vodacom BullsTry: Piet van Zyl. Penalties: Francois Brummer (3). Drop goal: Tian Schoeman.

DHL StormersTry: Damian de Allende. Conversion: Jean-Luc du Plessis. Penalties: Du Plessis (2).

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