The Vodacom Bulls made a statement of intent ahead of the domestic season by beating a rusty Sharks side 49-28 on Super Fan Saturday in Pretoria. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Sharks and Bulls had named 30-man squads before the match, but had starting lineups with a feeling of freshness to them as a number of players made their debuts. A few familiar names also returned to South African domestic rugby.
There were plenty of subs and tactical changes through the contest as coaches Jake White and Sean Everitt looked to test their combinations while also giving their match-shy Springboks a good number of minutes before next weekend’s Springbok Showdown and next month’s Rugby Championship.
There is no doubt that White would be the happier coach, though, as his side put in an attacking masterclass in the first half, while starving the Sharks of any decent possession and territory. White will be thrilled at how his backline and pack – much changed from mid-March – gelled against a side that was top of the Super Rugby conference in March.
Most worrying for Sean Everitt will be how his side dealt with the kicking game. The boot was a major part of the Sharks’ arsenal earlier this year, but halfback Sanele Nohamba and Curwin Bosch struggled to manage the game in this regard. The Sharks back three also battled to deal with Morne Steyn’s aerial bombs. To be fair, the Sharks were without their regular back three of Aphelele Fassi, Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi, while Madosh Tambwe also missed the match through injury.
The Bulls were simply superb in the first half as they ran the Sharks off their feet to outscore their opponents five tries to one and open up a 35-7 lead at half time.
There will be plenty of post-match focus on how the Bulls’ sevens converts – Stedman Gans and Kurt-Lee Arendse – did in their first game of fifteens this year.
Gans, who had previously played for the Bulls in the Currie Cup and Rugby Challenge, was excellent at outside centre, scoring a try after chasing a Steyn kick while also assisting Travis Ismaiel with an excellent line on to a flat pass from Steyn.
Arendse produced similar moments of magic as he sprinted from inside his own 22 and stepped past a couple of defenders to make it 21-0 with a fantastic individual try. Arendse soon after grabbed his second as a tradition backline move and good hands from Cornal Hendricks left him with a far more simple finish in the corner.
Rugby is back and we’ve missed tries like this! Kurt-Lee Arendse, take a bow. The Blitzboks flyer runs the length of the field to score for the Vodacom Bulls who lead 28-0 🔥💨
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) September 26, 2020
The Sharks looked off the pace and struggled to get any consistent and meaningful possession in the right areas of the field. However, they were able to grab a couple of tries in between as scrumhalf Grant Williams scored from a quick tap, while Marius Louw poached the ball from Jan-Hendrik Wessels’ arms to score.
The game lost its structure in the second half as the two coaches rang the changes and emptied their benches. Youngsters Dan Jooste and David Kriel scored for the Sharks and Bulls, respectively. Jaden Hendrickse then added further respect to the scoreline for the Sharks with a try, before Kriel grabbed his second to finish the try fest.
Bulls – Tries: Schalk Erasmus, Stedman Gans, Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), Travis Ismaiel, David Kriel (2). Conversions: Morne Steyn (5), Chris Smith.
Sharks – Tries: Grant Williams, Marius Louw, Dan Jooste, Jaden Hendrikse. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2), Jordan Chait (2).
Bulls – 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Erasmus, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Juandre Kruger, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Jade Stighling, 24 Clinton Swart, 25 David Kriel, 26 Sintu Manjezi, 27 Muller Uys, 28 Marco Jansen van Vurren, 29 Nizaam Carr, 30 Stravino Jacobs.
Sharks – 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Muller du Plessis, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Celimpilo Gumede, 6 Evan Roos, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Dylan Richardson, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Dan Jooste, 17, Mzamo Majola, 18 Joh-Hubert Meyer, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Emile van Heerden, 21 Adam Mountford, 22 Tera Mtembu, 23 Phepsi Buthelezi, 24 Jaden Hendrikse, 25 Jordan Chait, 26 Caleb Dingaan, 27 Marius Louw, 28 JP Pietersen, 29 Grant Williams, 30 Thaakir Abrahams.
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images