CAPE TOWN – Neutral observers may regard the fact that the Bulls nearly lost to Griquas on Saturday night as an indication that they are not as good as their performance in a warm-up game against the Sharks suggested.
Instead, for Bulls director of rugby Jake White, the come-from-behind 30-23 Super Rugby Unlocked victory at Loftus Versfeld displayed “good character” from his new team.
When Griquas took an early 10-0 lead and then went 18-10 ahead in the second half, White would have been anxious in the coaching box. After the Bulls thrashed the Sharks 49-28 with an exhilarating display on SuperFan Saturday two weeks ago, he would have expected the Bulls to dispatch the Kimberley outfit quite easily.
Instead, the Bulls huffed and puffed, but just couldn’t get their game going as Scott Mathie’s Griquas were committed in defence and took the few scoring chances that came their way.
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen’s whistle was also prominent at the breakdowns, which aided the visitors as the match became somewhat of a stop-start affair.
But ultimately, captain Arno Botha and his bunch of Bulls pulled themselves together to eke out a positive result.
“I must say it was good character by our team, considering we were 10-0 down after 35 minutes as well. All of a sudden, we went into the change room at 10-all. I must say it was a good character test for us, and I think people expected it to be a lot easier than what it ended up, and you’ve got to give credit to Griquas,” White said at the post-match press conference.
“I thought the way that they played, the way they stopped our momentum, the way that they chased – a lot of fighting spirit. Credit to them.
“What I think was important there is that we almost played from side to side. Once we played a more direct style – when we put the ball under our arms amongst the forwards – Jason (Jenkins) was through, Elrigh Louw was through, and Marco van Staden also once or twice (ran hard) with the ball.
“So, I think we thought we would just, with ball-in-hand, play from touchline to touchline. It wasn’t a case of changing our approach, but we just realised that we needed to be a bit more direct in our structure.
“But all credit to them. They defended well – Marco was held up over the line, Cornal (Hendricks) dropped the ball over the line… There were a few chances early in the game as well. A maul or two there in the corner, Corniel Els was stopped just short of the line.
“I will say that I was really happy with the way they came back. We were 18-10 down, 10-0 down after 35 minutes, and then they came back and they showed exactly that they can win games.
“It’s not always going to be easy – sometimes you’ve got to win ugly as well.”
A tough, hard-fought 80 minutes. But the Vodacom Bulls managed to come away with the win. First Vodacom #SuperRugbyUnlocked game, first W. On to the next one 💪#BullsFamily #BULvGRI pic.twitter.com/tQi3zkdHZb
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) October 10, 2020
Former Bulls and Sharks scrumhalf Mathie was pleased with the improvement his Griquas side were able to achieve following two consecutive warm-up defeats to the Cheetahs, but the coach knew that they could’ve won at Loftus for the second year in a row.
“I think our game management wasn’t good enough. We spent too much of our time in our own half, and we didn’t exit as well as we should have. Just before halftime, we needed to control that scrum and make sure we went into the second half with the lead, and we didn’t do that,” he said.
“They made it more difficult for us, and it’s just small moments like that – game-management moments, which we need to identify and be able to have clear heads in those times, and understand and eliminate those risks.
“To get up again after conceding a try like that, and go again and get to 18-10 just shows the character in this team, which I am really proud of.
“In the last 20, the Bulls bench had a bit of dominance in the scrum, and it helped them with some penalties. We’ve just got to work a bit better off the bench to make that impact.”
The only major injury concern was in the Bulls camp, with replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka leaving the field with the same calf problem that sidelined him for the Springbok Showdown last week.
“Lizo’s calf is a bit stiff. So, hopefully it’s the same injury and not too serious, but he just felt in those two scrums that he was on, that his calf was a bit sore – I won’t say torn, but he just felt that he had the same injury that he had before,” said White.
The Bulls next face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday (7pm), while Griquas will take on the Pumas in Kimberley on Saturday (4.30pm).
Tries: Ruan Nortje, Penalty Try, Arno Botha.
Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (3).
Tries: James Verity-Amm (2), Anthony Volmink.
Conversions: George Whitehead (1). Penalties: Whitehead (2).