Bulls overcome Waratahs in battle of nerves

2013-04-28 14:00

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Aussies came close, but no cigar

Loftus Versfeld has not been kind to Australian sides, with the last visitors to win here being Western Force in 2007.

The Waratahs did a good job coming close, but the cigar was just too far for them to reach.

The game was tighter than what the final score suggests, but the Waratahs’ Pretoria drought now spans 11 years.

What they did expose were the Bulls attacking limitations. But what they couldn’t do was prevent the Bulls from topping the South African conference.

If there is one team that tries to out-Bull the Bulls, it has to be the Waratahs.

They share the same colour and a penchant for big, rumbling forwards.

They also have an uncanny similarity in their ability to play uninspiring rugby at the best of times.

This was the case as both sides tried their best not to create try-scoring opportunities.

If ever rugby had its own Groundhog Day, this one was not far off.

It was a bad indictment on the amount of talent that was spread on the field, but the one thing the Bulls did was keep the ball away from the gangling Israel Folau.

Bernard Foley did not try to get their game breaker into the game but Morné Steyn’s radar did its fair share of neutralising the rugby league convert.

When Folau did get the ball, the Bulls defence had no answer as he shredded through flimsy tackling.

Akona Ndungane and debutant Ulrich Beyers will have difficulty living down the nightmare of being Folau’s turnstiles.

The Bulls did have their fair share of tactical inaccuracies but that has become the norm rather than the exception.

Their 22m forays were fleeting but points opportunities were well taken.

The Bulls’ breakdown weakness was countered by swarming that contact point and neutering the dangerous Michael Hooper.

With the Waratahs seemingly the only team who can beat the Bulls at their own game, it was some smart thinking that provided the bulk of the Bulls’ first-half points through Steyn’s boot.

For a rugby team with a nuggety ground-warfare specialist in Phil Waugh, they were pretty inept. The Bulls defence, which has been excellent, did their homework.

There were chinks, though, and one was that of JJ Engelbrecht. As good an attacker he can be, he has yet to tap into the defensive capabilities that are required from an outside.

His chosen channel was the weakest, and Hooper found other means to get into the game.

His burst through Engelbrecht’s tackle and subsequent offload to replacement prop Paddy Ryan made the other good Bulls defence look bad.

In the past three games, they conceded only two tries. In the space of eight minutes, either side of half-time, they conceded two.

With a sterile distributor in Foley, they were never in a position to take the Bulls to task. They were not helped by Juandre Kruger’s almost wilful line-out dominance.

It released whatever pressure the Waratahs tried to build up. Steyn was also at his creative worst and Jan Serfontein was kept quiet.

It was up to Folau to create bread from stones as he picked up a wild pass from Steyn. It ended up in a Foley try as the Waratahs’ borrowed a page from the Brumbies’ school of continuity and offloads.

Once again, and not for the first time, the Bulls were punished for profligacy.

However, there’s nothing like a try conceded to sting the Bulls back into action. After all, they need matadors to get their narrow eyes red.

Five minutes after Foley’s try, Francois Hougaard responded in kind to get the Bulls even. Steyn showed what they would miss when he departs as his boot inched the hosts ahead.

He then added a try to boot.

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