Snorting Bulls outmuscle Sharks at Loftus
Having been penned in for six months the bristling and snorting Bulls charged through the lifting gate at Loftus and mauled a Sharks team that looked in the firm embrace of lockdown on Saturday.
That was pretty much the story of the first half as the Bulls marked the restart of rugby with a display that was as cohesive as it was ruthless but the Sharks showed great fortitude by not dropping their bundle when all the signs suggested they would.
Naturally, how these teams would emerge from lockdown held much intrigue but that wasn’t just confined to performance after the opening whistle. Given how the world has changed in lockdown eyeballs were fixed on how SA Rugby would show their support to antiracism initiatives before kick-off.
After a six-month break the players were made to wait a little longer outside their respective change rooms as a pre-recorded message was played putting across SA Rugby’s anti-racism sentiments. It sounded as empty and as hollow as the rest of the stadium and as expected the players did not take the knee.
If a knee was administered it appeared to the Sharks’ hopes inside the first quarter.
When the match got underway the Sharks barely looked like the side that was the country’s standard bearers in the abandoned Super Rugby tournament earlier this year. They were bossed by a grizzled and bigger Bulls team now under the tutelage of the wily Jake White.
The Sharks, to be fair, have a crippling injury list and they were forced to push a green horn team into battle against a Bulls team where the accent has firmly returned to experience.
The Bulls’ also made their size count as they largely took charge in the collisions. They won the mini and significant battles with Jacques van Rooyen, Jason Jenkins, Marco van Staden and Duane Vermeulen turning the screw up front.
The Sharks brought a young, largely untested squad to Loftus and they had hoped they will find a dry pitch on which their more mobile team could outrun their bigger, more ponderous opponents.
Because of lockdown restrictions that legislated that only 174 people could be inside the stadium were allowed inside the stadium. The Sharks could not have asked for a more sterile environment to confront the Bulls but they were soon on the back foot.
The Sharks were full of endeavour but also error. Too often a pass would not find its intended target which stymied their ability to go onto the front foot.
They were beaten to the punch at the breakdown often finding their cleaners a yard off the pace. Their passing game, so assured and dexterous in February and March now looked panicky and rushed.
They were also prone to error off the boot launching kicks that weren’t so much contestable, as providing the opportunity to counter. At times too their defence was a shambles, with players abandoning battle stations and alignment.
The Bulls however deserve kudos for applying the squeeze that pushed the Sharks into frequent folly. Loose head Van Rooyen had an industrious afternoon and it is easy to see why White was drawn to his drill bit qualities.
The Bulls will be satisfied, while the Sharks will try and salvage what they can from the second half.
BULLS (35) 49
Tries – Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), Schalk Erasmus, Stedman Gans, Travis Ismaiel, David Kriel (2). Conversions: Morne Steyn (5), Chris Smith (2)
SHARKS (7) 28
Tries: Grant Williams, Marius Louw, Dan Jooste, Jaden Hendrickse. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2), Jordan Chait (2)
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