Playing for no more than pride

2013-07-08 00:00

THE Bulls and the Cheetahs took different routes but both reached their Super Rugby objectives in Super Rugby’s penultimate round of league play at the weekend.

The Bulls, outplayed and out-muscled for long periods, again took advantage of the Sharks’ generosity in squeaking to a 20-19 win at Loftus and they now head the overall log. Victory over the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday will ensure home advantage for the finals.

The Cheetahs, in contrast, were convincing winners in Bloemfontein, beating the Auckland Blues 34-13 and making history in reaching the play-offs for the first time.

In the third game played locally, the Stormers were too strong for a willing Kings outfit, beating them 24-12 in Port Elizabeth to overtake the Sharks on the log.

The Sharks were again guilty of wasting scoring chances and behaving badly as they went down to the Bulls. Dewald Potgieter, the Bulls captain, admitted that his team had “used their get out of jail card” in edging the Sharks.

But again, the Sharks dug their own grave. They played a quarter of the game with 14 men with first Bismarck du Plessis (flying elbow) and then Butch James (high tackle) yellow-carded, while Pat Lambie and Riaan Viljoen missed six kicks between them (16 points) on the night.

The last kick of the evening, in the final minute, could have won the match but the Sharks had just subbed first-choice kicker Lambie while his back-up James was in the cooler. And so it came to pass that the third-choice Viljoen took the final kick of the game, a relatively easy attempt, but booted it wide, leaving the Bulls to celebrate their top position of the log with the Chiefs, dropping to second on the log, joining the Sharks supporters in ruing a night of lost opportunities.

The Sharks were playing for no more than pride and their efforts were admirable. Flanks Marcell ­Coetzee and Jean Deysel, until he was surprisingly replaced for the last quarter, and lock Franco van der Merwe played some of their best rugby of the season.

Secret (but logical) team changes led to Keegan Daniel being dropped to the bench with Willem Alberts moving to No 8 to accommodate Deysel on the flank, while inside centre Butch James, who took over as captain on the night from Daniel, swopped places with flyhalf Lambie.

The plan came together perfectly and the Sharks, physical and strong, made inroads on the gainline, forcing the Bulls to make twice as many tackles in the first half, while there was more cohesion to the backplay.

Daniel, on for Alberts in the second half, made an immediate impact, adding energy and direction to the pack while he was cleverly hoisted high at the front of the lineout to spoil the Bulls’ ball.

There were excellent tries for Lambie — fashioned from a turnover on the Sharks’ line — and Odwa Ndungane following an astute James chip kick, but with goalkicks being regularly missed, the Bulls were always in touch and their late effort brought the winning try for replacement scrumhalf Jano Vermaak in the 73rd minute.

In Bloemfontein, Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss said a mental change was the reason for his team’s reaching the play-offs this year. “Our mindset is definitely the difference between this year and last,” said Strauss.

Blues veteran Ali Williams agreed. “The Cheetahs played as if possessed and they really do deserve a place in the play-offs,” he said. “They’ve come out and played the type of rugby we all want to watch and they simply outclassed us.”

Saturday’s SA scores

Bulls 20 - 19 Sharks

Cheetahs 34 - 12 Blues

Kings 12 - 24 Stormers

This weekend’s fixtures (home team first, SA times):

Friday: Crusaders v Hurricanes 9.35 am

Rebels v Highlanders 11.40 am

Saturday: Blues v Chiefs 9.35 am.

Waratahs v Reds 11.40 am

Force v Brumbies 1.45 pm.

Sharks v Kings 5.05 pm.

Stormers v Bulls 7.10 pm.

Bye: Cheetahs.

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