Handré Pollard kicked 16 points to guide the Vodacom Bulls to a 31-19 win over the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Pollard converted six of his eight attempts on goal. His accuracy in front of the posts, and when kicking out of hand, kept the Crusaders under pressure throughout the contest.
It was a confident peformance by the Springbok flyhalf, but then his forwards provided him with a platform. The Bulls pack overcame their early set-piece struggles to produce a convincing scrum and lineout perfromance later in the game. The pressure they exerted at the breakdowns and collisions ensured that the Crusaders had no space with which to work.
Indeed, it was the early defensive pressure that created a try-scoring opportunity for the hosts. The Crusaders attempted to clear their lines, but the kick was charged down. The Bulls pounced on the loose ball, and then built throught the phases until Francois Hougaard dotted down in the corner.
Hougaard was also involved in the buildup to the Bulls' second try. Some quick hands by the winger created space for Burger Odendaal on the outside. At 12-0, the Bulls had built a substantial lead.
Much was made about the Crusaders' scrumming technique in the lead-up to this game. The visitors bossed this set piece in the first half, and Dan Carter translated that dominance into points.
A converted try after 24 minutes gave the Crusaders the lead. Nemani Nadolo capitalised on some fractured Bulls defence, and Carter showed his class to nail a touchline conversion.
But the Crusaders' failure at the collisions and breakdowns continued to cost them at the other end. Richie McCaw was penalised severely in this area, and Pollard kept the hosts in front with some excellent goal-kicking.
The Bulls dominance at the gainline would win them the game. They turned defence into attack when Grant Hattingh intercepted a pass by Carter, and raced 45m to score. With Pollard's conversion, the Bulls were out to a comfortable 12-point lead.
In the final 10 minutes, the Crusaders began to panic. They made a host of substitutions, and the much talked about loosehead prop, Wyatt Crockett, was penalised heavily at the scrum. The reserves failed to lift the collective effort at the tackle, and the visitors continued to make handling mistakes as a result of the pressure.
The Bulls deserved to win this encounter, but they did exceptionally well to win by a 12-point margin. The Crusaders endeavoured to obtain a consolatory bonus point at the death, but would be denied by a determined Bulls defence.
Bulls – Tries: Francois Hougaard, Burger Odendaal, Grant Hattingh. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (4).
Crusaders – Try: Nemani Nadolo. Conversion. Dan Carter. Penalties: Carter (4).
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Morné Mellet.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 TBC, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jürgen Visser.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett,18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Colin Slade, 23 David Havili.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images