The Force beat the Bulls 15-9 in Perth on Saturday to hand the Pretoria franchise their fourth straight defeat on tour. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The journey to Australasia has proved a complete disaster. Injuries have not only forced the Bulls to alter their player-management strategies, but their playing tactics as well. That said, the players must take responsibility for their poor execution across each of the four matches. A zero-from-four return is simply not good enough.
The conditions in Perth on Saturday were conducive to the Bulls' style of play. You would have expected the Bulls to thrive in the wet conditions, to use their forwards and kicking game to good effect.
But as has been the case for much of the tour, the Bulls battled to execute their game plan. Victor Matfield stood out at the lineout, although the ensuing maul was often sacked by the Force. Bulls halfbacks Francois Hougaard and Jacques-Louis Potgieter sought to play the game in opposition territory, but their tactical kicking was aimless and couldn't pressure the Force into errors.
Surprisingly, it was the Force who showed the Bulls how to play in the conditions. Their defence absorbed the initial assault, and then players such as flyhalf Sias Ebersohn started to influence proceedings with an accurate tactical-kicking display.
It was anything but entertaining as both teams sought to gain the upper hand through a relentless barrage of tactical kicking. What separated the two teams was the accuracy of the Force's kicks. It was boring, it was uninspiring, but it was intelligent rugby.
Ebersohn's flawless goal-kicking allowed the Force to take a slender 9-6 lead into the break. A further penalty by the former Cheetahs player after half-time ensured that the Force maintained their momentum.
The Bulls grew more desperate as the match progressed. They continued to make handling errors, and their decision-making was equally poor.
Matfield opted for a lineout when the Bulls won a penalty at a crucial juncture in the 56th minute. The Bok lock secured possession from the ensuing feed, but could do nothing as his team-mates failed to set the maul correctly and conceded a penalty for obstruction.
The Bulls committed another game-costing gaffe when they were on attack in the 65th minute. They had the Force defence stretched at that point, and would have been expected to score from that position, but a careless and dangerous cleanout by Jacques du Plessis resulted in a penalty and ultimately a loss of momentum.
The visitors even had a chance to draw level with the Force in the 76th minute when they were awarded a scrum in the opposition 22. But the Force defence coped with what was a pedestrian Bulls assault, and then effected the breakdown turnover.
The result is a disappointing one for the Bulls, and for South African rugby. No team from the Republic has managed to win in Australasia this season, and the 0-12 record is cause for concern.
Force – Penalties: Sias Ebersohn (5).
Bulls – Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2), Handré Pollard.
Force – 15 Jayden Howard, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Adam Coleman, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Oli Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Chris Tuatara-Morrison.
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
The best South African player on the night was not wearing a Bulls jersey. Sias Ebersohn kicked well out of hand, and his accurate goal-kicking allowed the Force to build some scoreboard momentum towards the end of the first half.
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Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Four takeaways from past weekend
What we learned from the fifth round of Super Rugby, according to CRAIG LEWIS.
Bekker stays in the game
Recently-retired former Springbok lock Andries Bekker will move straight into a coaching role, writes CLINTON VAN DER BERG.
Pollard: I’m in a great space
Handré Pollard is determined to make a meaningful impact for the Bulls and Boks after working his way back to fitness and form, writes CRAIG LEWIS.