Sharks fail to take the Bulls down
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.