The Vodacom Bulls’ defence and fitness will be in the spotlight when they host the Crusaders for the first time since the infamous 62-24 result in 2017, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The hits just kept on coming on the day the Bulls hosted the Crusaders in 2017. The Bulls conceded 62 points and a whopping 10 tries on that occasion. Afterwards, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson suggested that South African teams lacked the basic fitness to compete with their Kiwi counterparts.
One would like to believe that the Bulls – and South African rugby in general – have progressed since that black day. Sadly, the results suggest this is not the case.
There was a time when local teams bossed New Zealand sides on South African soil, and when they were virtually unbeatable on the highveld.
The Lions started to claw back the ascendancy when they beat the Crusaders and Highlanders in the 2016 playoffs staged at Ellis Park, as well as the Hurricanes in Johannesburg a year later. Since losing to the Crusaders in the 2017 final, however, they have not beaten a New Zealand team at home.
The Bulls have lost five out of six home matches against New Zealand opposition since the start of the 2017 season. Clearly the Kiwis don’t mind venturing into the Bull Ring.
The most recent result may be fresh in the minds of the Bulls players. They were expected to beat a struggling Chiefs side. They ended up losing 56-20.
Afterwards, it was the Bulls coach who put the boot in. Pote Human questioned the mindset and ultimately the effort of the players. When you don’t pitch for a game against Kiwi opposition, you take 50-plus points. Even at home on the highveld.
The quality of the Bulls’ defence in that game was shocking. The Chiefs just seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. The altitude didn’t seem to bother them in the closing stages of the clash.
Some might write that result off to complacency. The Bulls will certainly have a point to prove when they host the Crusaders on Friday.
The big question is: will they be able to match the Crusaders for tempo?
The Crusaders tend to shift gears during the latter stages of a contest. They’ve scored 48 tries in this year’s tournament, and 28 of those have come in the second half. No team has been as dangerous or clinical during the latter stages of a game.
The Cantabrians may feel like they have their own point to prove, though. They scored a converted try after the final hooter to draw with the Sharks last week, but looked disappointed with that result as they left the field. The Bulls may be on the wrong end of a Crusaders backlash this Friday.
The Bulls boast one of the best defensive records in this year’s tournament. They did not, however, manage to contain teams like the Jaguares and Chiefs.
The Sharks showed last week that they have what it takes to match the Crusaders. The coming game at Loftus will reveal where the Bulls stand in relation to the competition’s pace-setters.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix