Bulls mix it up impressively in good win
The Vodacom Bulls mixed up their game well as they cruised to a comfortable 53-27 win over dangerous Connacht in their sixth-round Vodacom United Rugby Championship fixture at Loftus on Saturday evening.
It was the first win of the season for a South African team against Irish opposition, and although it was anticipated as the Bulls were back home and at altitude, the hosts nonetheless produced what for Jake White should have been a pleasing showcase of the good business he did when it came to recruitment in the off-season.
You’d hesitate to suggest that the Bulls under White have ever been the one-dimensional team, but benefits brought by the addition of Springbok double World Cup-winning fullback Willie le Roux to add his long passing game and injections into the backline was immediately apparent when the Bulls attacked.
WILLIE’S DEBUT TRY
Le Roux scored what will go down as a popular debut try for the Bulls on the stroke of halftime off a move which looked initially like it featured a forward pass from wing Sebastian de Klerk to the fullback, but which on review was correctly deemed to have come backwards off a Connacht hand.
Le Roux waved his finger in triumph as he crossed for the try and Loftus celebrated with him as not only was it the former Cheetahs and Sharks player’s first try for the franchise, it was also the Bulls’ fourth try of the night and thus clinched the bonus point.
White’s recruitment drive didn’t just stop at Le Roux of course. Perhaps an even more important angle to it was his strengthening of the forwards through the addition of front-rankers Wilco Louw and Akker van der Merwe, with the hooker, formerly of the Lions and the Sharks before he spent a few years playing overseas, crossing for the first Bulls try.
It came after Connacht flyhalf Jack Carty had kicked a penalty after seven minutes to give the visitors a 3-0 lead before Jaco van der Walt, the Scotland capped flyhalf previously of the Lions and Edinburgh, levelled the scores with a penalty from an easily kickable position.
A few minutes later came Van der Merwe’s try, which was the result of good interplay from the lineout, with skipper Ruan Nortje being put into space down the right touchline as the ball was moved back in that direction from the set piece, and a great offload from the lock sent Van der Merwe scurrying off like the angry warthog Nick Mallett once dubbed him in the direction of the tryline.
Van der Walt didn’t kick the conversion, his only miss in the game, but it didn’t seem to matter much when Elrich Louw then went over to score a try that put daylight between the teams at 15-3.
One of the players who featured strongly when the Bulls fowards got to get their power game going near the Connacht line was the other Louw, Wilco.
The role played by Wilco Louw and before that Nortje in the first two tries does not though sum up the full significance of their value to the Bulls - that really comes not through what they do in general player, or at least not only, but also to the influential role they play in creating a much improved first-phase platform.
That is of course key in rugby, and it was again in this game, with the comfort the Bulls enjoyed in controlling first phase mirroring the comfort with which they controlled the game overall.
There were brief instances where Connacht looked like they might fight back, but either because they weren’t quite as tenacious in fighting for the win as they’d been in Durban the week before, or it was because of how potent the Bulls were now that they were back in their own corral, a proper fightback was never a realistic prospect.
They simply weren’t allowed by their opponents to be in the game.
A second Van der Walt penalty extended the Bulls' advantage to 18-3 in the 28th minute and although Connacht struck back with a second Carty penalty three minutes later, it was the Bulls who finished the half on the charge.
Nortje, although he went off early, would have been my man of the match for his authoritative display and he capped that performance by being the man up in support when scrumhalf Zak Burger sold a dummy and he cantered over untouched for the try, the Bulls’ third.
A good diving effort from Connacht wing Diarmuid Kilgallen as space was opened for him on the left did interject the Bulls’ scoring but the Le Roux try on halftime pushed the Bulls to 32-13 and a comfortable lead that wasn’t going to be overtaken.
YELLOW CARD FOR AKKER
The visitors did make a good fist of their effort to pull it back early in the second half, with the disappointment of conceding a try that was scored by a transition from the Bulls after a 25-phase buildup broke down deep inside the Bulls’ own half being quickly replaced when the referee, in tandem with the TMO, cancelled the try for what was deemed a cynical interjection from Van der Merwe at the genesis of the Bulls’ counter-attack.
So Van der Merwe was carded and from the resultant penalty set up Connacht launched the attack that put Tadgh McIlroy in for the try that brought it back to 32-20.
But the Bulls managed to hold on during the period they were down to 14 men so there was no repeat of what happened last week against Edinburgh, where they effectively lost the game when they were down on numbers following cards to Marcell Coetzee and Cameron Hanekom.
The five points garnered by the Bulls takes them back to the upper reaches of the URC log with a third of the league season completed and a massive derby against the Sharks coming into view next week.
Vodacom Bulls 53 - Tries: Akker van der Merwe, Elrigh Louw, Ruan Nortje, Willie le Roux, Nizaam Carr, David Kriel and Chris Smith; Conversions: Jaco van der Walt 4 and Chris Smith; Jaco van der Walt 2.
Connacht 27 - Tries: Diarmuid Kilgallen, Tadgh McIlroy and Shamus Hurley-Langton; Conversions: Jack Carty 3; Penalties: Jack Carty 2.