Lethal Bulls want more
Lethal Bulls want moreSHARE
Displaying their lethal counter-attacking ability, the Bulls will look to reproduce the first 60 minutes they dished up against the Cheetahs at the weekend as they head into the business end of the season.
The three-time Super Rugby champions sounded an ominous warning when they raced out to a 40-0 lead – having already wrapped up the four-try bonus point before the half-time break – and then sent on a rash of replacements.
The departure of key players like captain Pierre Spies, Dean Greyling, flyhalf Morné Steyn and Francois Hougaard – all in quick succession around the hour mark – handed the momentum to the Cheetahs in the final quarter.
The visitors from Bloemfontein managed four consolation tries for a bonus point in a 40-24 drubbing by the Bulls.
However, it was the clinical display by the Bulls in the first 60 minutes that would have made their rivals sit up and take note.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke admitted his team would have like to have finished as strongly as they started and played for the first hour, but added that some players needed a break – after a long season, including a three-Test series against England – and the match allowed them to "manage" those players.
The key is that the Bulls ensure they have their destiny in their own hands with just two weeks remaining before the play-offs.
"The most important aspect for us was to get the five points," Ludeke told this website in an interview.
"There are a number of teams still in the running and every week will be vital," he said of their remaining league matches – against the Sharks in Durban this coming Friday and the Lions in Pretoria a week later.
"That is why it is important that every week we do our best and play to our potential – that is all we can ask for [from the players]."
Ludeke said the type of rugby they want to play in the weeks to come is what they produced in that first 60 minutes against the Cheetahs.
"[There was] a good balance between attack and defence," the coach said, adding: "On the counter we were lethal … those first four tries were all from counter attacks."
The other pleasing aspect is how well the backline is performing – with left wing Bjorn Basson second on the tournament's top try-scorers list (with nine, just one behind leader André Taylor of the Hurricanes), while fullback Zane Kirchner (five) and right wing Akona Ndungane (three) also making major contributions.
Basson scored one of the best individual tries of the season, when he went over just before the hour mark to effectively put the match beyond the reach of the Cheetahs.
"It was an outstanding individual effort to beat two players and was a great try," Ludeke said, when asked about his back three's outstanding form this season.
"We have produced some outstanding backline play, especially from broken play … great leg speed and hand skills.
"From set pieces the defensive systems are usually well organised, but from broken play is where the players show what they are capable of."
Ludeke admitted that making all those changes on the hour mark cost his team some momentum, but felt it was the right thing to do.
"You do want to finish strongly," Ludeke said, adding: "In that first 60 minutes we were very clinical and our defence was rock solid, while we used the opportunities that came our way."
He felt that, despite the margin of their lead (40-0) it was still a really tough battle.
"In the last 20 minutes they managed to apply some pressure with those chip-kicks and suddenly they finished off their chances.
"There was a huge momentum shift in the game."
The Bulls mentor defended the decision to send on all the replacements.
"However, some of those players who have been with the Boks needed to be managed and the game [40-0 up] allowed us to do that [manage them].
"Some of the players off the bench have not had much game time either, but it [the scoreline in the last 20 minutes] is certainly not a reflection of the guys who came on.
"When the game broke open and we score those two easy tries [early in the second half] it allowed us to make all those changes any players we bring on, we give careful consideration to.
"I the game was closer, we would have taken a very different strategic approach."
By Jan de Koning