Bulls send Super statement of intent with the hammering of the Sharks

Marco van Staden of the Vodacom Bulls celebrating after scoring a try during the Super Rugby Unlocked match between Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on October 24, 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Marco van Staden of the Vodacom Bulls celebrating after scoring a try during the Super Rugby Unlocked match between Vodacom Bulls and Cell C Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on October 24, 2020 in Pretoria, South Africa.
Image: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images

The Sharks left Loftus Versfeld with a bloodied nose and plenty to think about after the Bulls claimed a comprehensive 41-14 win.

All the talk leading into the game was about the lessons learnt by the Sharks from the SuperFan Saturday goring.

If the Sharks went to Tshwane with a plan, it quickly went out of the window after the Bulls initially sized them up; then repeatedly punched them in the face.

The Sharks have plenty going for them from a youth perspective and their youngsters never shirked the contest. The Bulls though had the abrasiveness of experience which they used to chilling effect.

When their physical edge is met, which was the case last week against the Cheetahs, the Bulls tend to look ordinary.

They weren’t last night and this should be joy for the Bok coaching think-tank and concern for everyone else in Super Rugby Unlocked.

The Bulls not only dominated territory and possession, but also the scoreboard. Their lead wasn’t indicative of their dominance, but for large stretches of the first half, there was only one team on the field and it was dressed in blue.

The Sharks had passages of play where they partially made the Bulls sweat, especially when Dylan Richardson made life unbearable for the Bulls at the breakdown.

The Bulls’ physicality and their electric midfield duo was too much for the Sharks. Cornal Hendricks’s move to 12 is reaping dividends with each game.

His hard running lines and crisp passing kept Marius Louw and Lukhanyo Am guessing while the hot-stepping Stedman Gans, whose 28th minute try was a thing of phone booth beauty, was a constant menace.

These factors and the Bulls’ unrelenting physicality coupled with deft offloads meant the Sharks had a rather long first 40 minutes. Their accurate breakdown work kept them in the game, with Curwin Bosch’s accurate boot giving them a 6-3 lead before the Bulls roared into the ascendancy with two tries in four minutes.

After Gans’s wonder try where he stepped past three Sharks defenders to a point where it looked like catching the wind was the better option, Marco van Staden’s try was the reward of continued physicality.

Ivan van Zyl’s snipe drew the two defenders that opened up the space for Ruan Nortje, who shovelled the ball off to Van Staden.

While the Sharks were able to land a third penalty through Bosch, they were shell-shocked and when Van Staden rumbled over the line from a rolling maul in the 44th minute, the lead had increased to 24-9. The maul was one facet the Sharks were able to stem for large parts of the first half, but with Richardson battling at the line-out, the visitors were robbing themselves of a source of possession.

They did eventually find some sort of structural stride and scored their first try in the 52nd minute through Richardson.

The Bulls responded with some style three minutes later through Gans, but the deft magic was provided by Steyn’s grubber that was collected by Kurt-Lee Arendse, who drew two defenders in the process.

Replacements Marco Jansen van Vuuren and Embrose Papier added the finishing touches to what was a polished performance by the hosts.

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