The Crusaders ran in 10 tries to thrash the Bulls 62-24 in Pretoria and record their 10th straight victory. JON CARDINELLI reports.
There was a time when the top New Zealand teams feared a journey into the South African rugby heartland. Those were the days when the Bulls forwards commanded respect at the set pieces and collisions, when the Bulls backs defended with unrelenting ferocity, and when the die-hard fans filled the stadium every week to create a hostile atmosphere that was second to none.
Nowadays, the Bulls are routinely manhandled at the scrums and collisions. Their backline is easily breached and their kicking game is all too easily negated. The fans are no longer interested in watching their team cop beating after beating at Loftus Versfeld.
On Saturday, a mere 13,000 turned up to watch the clash against the Crusaders. In a sense, they were treated to a masterclass in set-piece play by the Crusaders. Richie Mo'unga was in commanding form behind a dominant pack, and the Crusaders backs showed both power and panache to capitalise on their scoring opportunities.
The Bulls did themselves no favours with a limp effort at the gainline. They failed to shut down the Crusaders' offloading game, and failed to manage the grubber kicks that were put in behind their defence.
The Crusaders scored five tries and 31 points in the first half. All the Bulls had to show for their efforts was a solitary Tian Schoeman penalty.
The visitors continued to dominate to an embarrassing degree. Three quick tries allowed the Crusaders to surpass the 50-mark in almost as many minutes.
The Bulls appeared at a complete loss for a response. There was no fightback in the early stages of the second stanza. There was no tactical adjustment – at least nothing obvious or indeed effective – in the face of such a scrummaging and kicking onslaught.
The leadership at the Bulls, from the coaches to the administrators, has been under scrutiny for some time. The Bulls lost to the Cheetahs and Sunwolves earlier this season. While the Crusaders were expected to win at Loftus, the manner and margin of the Bulls' defeat served to show again that something is profoundly wrong at the once proud franchise.
The Crusaders maintained their effort in the dying stages. They continued to rush up in defence, and continued to make the most of their turnover opportunities. Mitchell Hunt swooped on a loose ball in the 70th minute and then raced away from the Bulls defence to claim the Crusaders' 10th try.
There can be no excuse for such a pathetic performance. One would hope for the sake of the franchise that changes will be made – to the team and to the coaching staff – sooner rather than later.
The Bulls have lost six of their nine games in 2017. They've lost all three matches against Kiwi opponents. It won't get any easier when they host the Highlanders next week.
Meanwhile, the mighty Crusaders march on. They beat the Stormers 57-14 a couple of weeks ago and thumped the Cheetahs 48-21 in round 10. Clearly they don't mind playing against South African teams.
The unbeaten Cantabrians will travel back to New Zealand and face the Hurricanes in what could be the match of the conference phase.
Bulls – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Jamba Ulengo, Jan Serfontein. Conversions: Francois Brummer (3). Penalty: Tian Schoeman.
Crusaders – Tries: Pete Samu, Tim Bateman, Scott Barrett, Jack Goodhue (2), Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili, Richie Mo'unga, Andrew Makalio. Mitchell Hunt. Conversions: Mo'unga (5), Hunt.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Nick de Jager, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Jannes Kirsten, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Pete Samu, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images