There is an old rugby cliche that defence shows the character and unity of a team, and the Bulls must be a tight-knit family indeed judging by the great defensive display they produced in beating Connacht 28-14 in their United Rugby Championship match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
While the Bulls did some good things on attack, two of their four tries coming from offensive moves, it was their defence – smart, physical and untiring – that was the outstanding feature of their play.
Connacht only managed to breach the swarming Bulls defence after referee Andrea Piardi had given the home side their third yellow card. The three naughty kids were Marco van Staden, Johan Goosen and Jan-Hendrik Wessels, and all of them were for offences deemed to have occurred in the tackle, whether dangerous, high or late.
Clearly the Bulls’ defensive steel was a bit too intimidating for the referee.
Connacht were also unable to make the most of their possession thanks to the Bulls’ excellent efforts at the breakdown, where the likes of Van Staden, hookers Johan Grobbelaar and Wessels, and flank Marcell Coetzee were scavenging like a pack of hungry hyenas.
Captain Coetzee gave his usual industrial-strength display of power, muscling over for an important try on the stroke of halftime that put the Bulls 21-0 up at the break.
They had scored their first two tries in the first 10 minutes, the defensive pressure leading to an early dropped pass which was snapped up by fullback Kurt-Lee Arendse, who ran 75 metres to score; three minutes later, flyhalf Goosen kept a couple of defenders busy before putting Cornal Hendricks in the gap, Canan Moodie’s mazy run was stopped inside the 22, lock Walt Steenkamp was held up just short, but scrumhalf Zak Burger then went over for the try.
The Bulls scored their fourth and final try when centre David Kriel delayed his pass beautifully to put lock Ruan Nortje through the hole, from where Burger was found in support, roaring over for his second try, and the Bulls’ last, six minutes into the second half.
In between the tries, the Bulls had to show great industry in defence, especially since the referee’s whistle was as undermining for them as State Capture has been on South Africa’s economy. The lineout was also a highly profitable area for them.
Connacht were eventually on the board in the 68th minute through replacement prop Jack Aungier, and then when the Bulls lost another man because they were forced into uncontested scrums due to Wessels’ yellow card and Grobbelaar being injured, flyhalf David Hawkshaw charged down a Chris Smith clearance and scored.
By the end of this stop-start affair, dominated by officialdom, many in the crowd were more interested in watching their fellow spectators build multi-storey beer snakes out of their empty cups.
Bulls: Tries – Kurt-Lee Arendse, Zak Burger (2), Marcell Coetzee. Conversions – Johan Goosen (4).
Connacht: Tries – Jack Aungier, David Hawkshaw. Conversions – Hawkshaw (2).