Saints smash Bulls in nine-try rout

rugby13 April 2024 21:14| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel

It was always likely to be a bridge too far, and in the end the Vodacom Bulls' European Champions Cup campaign ended with a whimper and not a bang as they were hopelessly outclassed, conceding nine tries as they went down 59-22 against Northampton Saints in their quarterfinal at Franklin Gardens on Saturday night.

There were howls of anger from all over Europe when the Bulls decided to change 13 players from last weekend’s win over Lyon and bring a virtual second squad to the quarterfinal.

Nonetheless, there was always hope that the Bulls would put up a fight in a fairytale outing where they would prove their detractors wrong and provide a game that would be talked about for generations.

But alas, that was all a pipe dream.

It was a distant hope that a team that would have had to make their second trip to the Northern Hemisphere in two weeks with players who hadn’t played for months would be able to stand up to the top team in the Premiership.


And while they were brave on a cold night up in England, they were never playing on a level playing field.

The cracks started in the first half, where the Bulls conceded four tries in the opening 24 minutes, and the defensive frailties were on full display.

What made it palatable was the fact that they fought hard in the first half and scored three tries, going into the break down by just six points.

So there was hope, but as they say hope can kill you.

It was a surprise that the Saints didn’t make more of the massive gaps in the midfield where Henry Immelmann played his first game in months in a midfield partnership with Stravino Jacobs, who had just returned from injury.

Probably the best you could say of the Bulls is the fact that they kept the scoreline down to 59 points as, at times, the home side could easily have added four or five more tries.


It was a mismatch that was hard and frustrating to watch.

Knowing that a full-strength Bulls side would have had a decent chance only made it worse.

Somehow, somewhere, rugby’s administrators need to find a way of making the playing field level and a global season would be a massive start.

There were heroes for the Bulls - the likes of Cameron Hanekom, Celimpilo Gumede and Sebastian de Klerk in particular came out with their reputations enhanced. But too many of their teammates were below par.

In fact, the game probably served a bigger purpose for Jake White, who at least was given notice of which players would not make the grade going forward.

It may sound harsh, but professional sport is an unforgiving arena and Franklin Gardens was a very unforgiving place on Saturday night.


The stats tell a very harsh story - The Bulls conceding 15 penalties to five, missing 14 tackles and with just 81 post-contact metres made, they never had a chance.

It all started in the 10th minute, where James Ramm ghosted past Stravino Jacobs and threw a dummy to go over untouched.

The Bulls hit back as Hanekom powered his way over the line to get the Bulls on the scoreboard early on.

Courtney Lawes added his name to the scoresheet two minutes later and it was clear this wasn’t going to be a low-scoring game.

And the poor defensive effort was underlined when Ollie Sleightholme beat not three, but five defenders on the way to the line in the 20th minute, followed four minutes later by Alex Mitchell, with the Saints scoring their fourth try in the 24th minute.

It looked like the rout was going to start early, but then Akker van der Merwe steamed down the blindside to score against the run of play and Sebastian de Klerk intercepted to give the Bulls their third try and a 28-22 halftime scoreline.


The fact that it was the most points scored in the first half of a Champions’ Cup playoff game didn’t go unnoticed, even though defensive coaches may have been tearing their hair out.

The Bulls' only chance would have been to score early in the second half, but Northampton snuffed that out as an inside ball sent Alex Coles away for a try early on.

De Klerk’s second try was disallowed for a tip tackle by Hanekom, who received his marching orders in the process and with a man down the Bulls were sure to concede again.

Ramm scored his second and Fraser Dingwall got on the scoreboard to end the game as a contest, but late tries by Mitchell and Juarno Augustus ballooned the scoreline to end a sorry night for the Bulls.

Their Champions’ Cup run may have ended, but they will hope the cotton wool around their biggest stars will pay off when they resume Vodacom United Rugby Championship duties next week against defending champions Munster at Loftus.


NORTHAMPTON SAINTS - tries: James Ramm (2), Alex Mitchell (2), Courtney Lawes, Ollie Sleightholme, Alex Coles, Frase Dingwall, Juarno Augustus. Conversions: Fin Smith (7).

VODACOM BULLS - tries: Cameron Hanekom, Akker van der Merwe, Sebastian de Klerk. Conversions: Chris Smith (2). Penalty: Smith.