Sharks fail to take the Bulls down

CityPress - - Sport - – City Press cor­re­spon­dent

In the de­bate to set­tle the iden­tity of South Africa’s second best Su­per Rugby side be­hind the Lions, the Bulls put up their hand by thump­ing the Sharks at home to main­tain their quirky record of rarely los­ing to the Dur­ban side in the com­pe­ti­tion.

John Mitchell’s men were ex­e­cu­tion per­son­i­fied in tip­ping the Sharks over for the fifth time in their past six meet­ings (the sixth was a draw), a bonus point win that lifted them into third place on the South Africa con­fer­ence on goal dif­fer­ence be­hind their hosts.

As has be­come their cus­tom this sea­son, the Bulls started the game as if they were catch­ing the last flight out of Dur­ban to Jo­han­nes­burg yes­ter­day evening, a 10-minute pe­riod in which they got them­selves two con­verted War­rick Ge­lant tries, de­spite con­ced­ing a penalty as early as the second minute.

Key to that ru­n­away ef­fort were three things – their kick­ing game, ruth­less­ness once in the op­po­si­tion 22, the kind of de­fence that has pro­tected coun­tries be­fore and man of the match Ge­lant’s hat-trick.

Although ex­ces­sively used de­fen­sively in the South African game, the kick­ing game is un­der­rated as an at­tack­ing weapon.

Yes­ter­day, the Bulls struck a won­der­ful bal­ance be­tween both, with the chip kick and grub­ber re­spon­si­ble for all three of Ge­lant’s tries, and ter­ri­to­rial kick­ing re­spon­si­ble for hooker Adriaan Strauss’ rolling maul try.

With the pos­ses­sion much of a much­ness in the first half (51-49 to the Bulls) and ter­ri­tory 59% to 41% in favour of the hosts, the main dif­fer­ence be­tween the teams was how the Bulls scored seven points pretty much ev­ery time they found them­selves in the op­po­nents’ red zone.

Then came the de­fence, which was in­stru­men­tal to it all, given the pos­ses­sion and ter­ri­tory stats.

The Bulls ha­rassed the Sharks with their line speed when they were de­fend­ing, were big in the hit and

pos­i­tively worka­holic when scram­bling.

Apart from their des­per­a­tion to chase ev­ery Sharks player as if they were mak­ing off with their wal­lets, there also seemed to be spe­cial at­ten­tion paid to Thomas du Toit, Jean-Luc du Preez and An­dré Ester­huizen, the hosts’ big ball­car­ri­ers.

From a per­son­nel per­spec­tive, locks RG Sny­man and Lood de Jager – com­ple­mented by Marco van Staden, stream­lined prop Trevor Nyakane and no-frills flanker Them­be­lani Bholi – led the charge up front, while Ge­lant and Han­drè Pol­lard made the smart calls out wide.

Full­back Ge­lant clearly loves play­ing the Sharks, as he al­most al­ways scores a hat-trick against them, but yes­ter­day was the liveli­est he has looked this sea­son, with big-hit­ting de­fence (ask Cur­win Bosch and Sbu Nkosi) and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to chase kicks ahead.

Pol­lard, who can some­times be led astray by the red-blood­ed­ness of a game, was calm­ness per­son­i­fied, mostly mak­ing the right calls at the right time and nail­ing all his kicks at goal.

Even when the rain started pouring down, the vis­i­tors had bet­ter an­swers than the hosts, with their scrum gain­ing the up­per hand and their rolling maul gain­ing in promi­nence.

Once they’d scored a penalty try from the lat­ter, the Sharks were left with a moun­tain they couldn’t climb with the score on 28-10.

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