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Ken Borland

Bulls team comprising 11 Boks pushed all the way by Griquas; here’s what they learnt 0

Posted on October 13, 2020 by Ken

A Bulls team comprising 11 Springboks was pushed all the way by a Griquas side without a single international in their Super Rugby Unlocked game at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria at the weekend, with the home team eventually coming back from deficits of 10-0 in the first half and 18-10 early in the second to win 30-23.

As Griquas coach Scott Mathie pointed out afterwards, even when you take the Springboks out of the equation, the Bulls have about R30 million rand more to spend on players than the minnows from Kimberley, and yet it was the visitors who handed out many lessons on Saturday night.

Here are the main things new coach Jake White would have learnt about the Bulls from the tough encounter:

There is enough character and skill in the team when they are under pressure

Having played half-an-hour of poor rugby, wasting several chances, the Bulls did not panic and managed to go into halftime all-square at 10-10. Similarly, after conceding eight points early in the second half, they stuck to the revised game-plan in the second half and closed out a vital win.

“There was good character shown by the team, to be 10-0 down after 35 minutes and to be able to go into the changeroom at 10-10 was a good character test. Credit to Griquas for stopping our momentum, the way they defended and chased everything showed a lot of fight and spirit. I would have preferred we played like we did against the Sharks and got five points, but you see different things under pressure.

“I don’t really know a lot of the players very well and I got time to see the players and how they react under pressure tonight. Fortunately we were able to win the little battles, those championship moments, and we scored 30 points despite not playing well. Everybody wants to see the perfect game and maybe some people expected that tonight, but it’s not always going to happen,” White said.

The Bulls, for all their attacking potential, have to ‘build an innings’, they need to be more direct first before trying to exploit space out wide

The Bulls backline again looked threatening with ball in hand and some ambitious rugby was played in the first half. But they were guilty of going wide too quickly and players were often isolated and turned over, while not using the forwards to punch holes first and get opponents on the floor, meant Griquas were able to flood the breakdown, winning numerous turnovers.

In the second half, the Bulls showed more patience and the likes of Marco van Staden, Jason Jenkins and replacement eighthman Elrigh Louw were able to get in behind the defending side.

“What was important in the second half was that from playing side-to-side in the first half, we were more direct. We were able to get the forwards with the ball under their arm, Jason Jenkins burst through, so did Elrigh Louw and Marco van Staden had a couple of good runs. We realised after the first half that we had to be more direct in our structure.

“So I told them at the break to be more direct, not to play so much touch rugby in the middle of the field. I was very happy with the set-pieces, we got enough ball and our forwards were relatively strong. I’m happy that we found a way to win,” White said.

The Bulls need to work on their breakdown strategy and need to commit more cleaners on their own ball

The Bulls conceded seven turnovers in the first half, mostly because of isolated players simply being rucked off the ball by the willing Griquas pack. Not enough attention was paid to the clean-out by the Bulls, who wanted players on their feet, but perhaps erred too much in that direction and did not focus enough on ensuring they secured the ball at the breakdown first.

“We didn’t have much rhythm and at times Griquas got away with it at the breakdown, but winning 16 penalties to eight conceded shows we could not complain. Because we had such a good shape against the Sharks two weeks ago, we probably thought things would be a lot easier at the breakdown. We probably should have put one or two more players in early on.

“We did not do enough early on to secure our ball and that gave them a sniff. We were probably a bit seduced by the last game and how easily we got quick ball, so tonight we didn’t think we needed to go in there and fetch it. And the side carrying the ball definitely wasn’t rewarded as much tonight, at one stage we had 65% possession and we were still getting penalised. But we showed we can win ugly, sometimes it’s not easy and you have to do that,” White said.

Morne Steyn did not have his greatest outing but he remains one of the best game-managers around

White admitted that Steyn did not have his best game, but the way the Bulls dominated territory in the final quarter was crucial. Possession was fairly equal throughout the game, but Griquas were forced into trying to play too much rugby in their own half, largely thanks to Steyn’s tactical kicking.

“We didn’t manage the game well enough and we need to be better at that,” Mathie admitted. “Our exits from our own half should have been better and we will be working on our decision-making. We sent too much time in our own half and didn’t exit as well as we should have. Just before halftime, we should have controlled the scrum better and then we would have gone into the second half in the lead.

“Those are the small moments that matter and you need clear heads at those times, you need to eliminate risk. We just needed a few better decisions but we’ve taken a point at Loftus and we will take a lot of energy from that and that we were able to win this game, we did enough to win,” Mathie said.

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