Sat Dec 03 15:39:39 SAST 2016

The Bulls are feeling bullish again

Craig Ray | 2011-05-22 22:00:21.00 Comments
Bjorn Basson of the Bulls tackles Patrick Lambie of the Sharks during their South African derby Super 15 rugby match in Durban, May 21, 2011
Image by: ROGAN WARD

The Bulls appear to have timed their run to the Super 15 play-offs well after finally looking like triple champions when they steamrollered the Sharks in a thunderous clash at King's Park on Saturday night.

The 32-23 scoreline flattered the home team as the Bulls won all the big collisions and at last pieced together 80 minutes of impressive rugby.

It has left the Bulls third on the South African standings, eight points behind the Stormers and three behind the Sharks. They are now up to eighth on the overall standings, three points behind the Sharks and Highlanders.

But is it too late to save their campaign? After five defeats earlier in the competition, the ground they lost on the Stormers is too much to make up with only four matches to play.

The Bulls' path to the title almost certainly lies in the cumbersome play-off route, where, if they finish between third and sixth on the overall standings, they will play a wildcard match.

It's effectively a quarterfinal and depending on the final standings, the Bulls might have to fly to New Zealand for that game, and, if they win, return to South Africa for a semifinal.

As schedules go, it's not a comfortable option for the Bulls. Top place in South Africa and first or second on the overall log would mean a bye followed by a semifinal at home.

It's not going to happen unless the Stormers stagger over their final four matches, which is unlikely as the Cape Town side has games against the Brumbies and Rebels over the next two weeks.

But suddenly most teams will fear an encounter with the Bulls, regardless of the venue or the distance they have had to travel. The Bulls in the form they displayed in Durban can topple any side through their sheer physicality.

With a pack winning all the key battles, Bok flyhalf Morne Steyn produced a sparkling performance that should settle the Bok flyhalf debate for the moment. He outplayed Pat Lambie, the man pushing him for the Bok No10 jersey, although the young Shark was operating behind a well-beaten pack.

There were other encouraging signs for the Bulls. Tighthead Werner Kruger looked the player who made such strides in 2010 while hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle was magnificent. Why he was substituted with 25 minutes to play is a mystery.

Gerhard van den Heever, asked to play fullback at the last minute, revelled in the extra space he found and was able to show his speed and step, which are so often stifled on the wing.

There is still a long way to go for the Bulls and every match is a play-off for them because they cannot afford another defeat. But they are hitting their straps at the business end of the season, which is a worrying thought for the other title contenders.

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The Bulls are feeling bullish again

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