The Vodacom Bulls sounded a stern warning ahead of their Super Rugby campaign as they demolished the Toyota Cheetahs 32-10 in their pre-season friendly at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane.
It may be early days and both teams will downplay the significance of the win, but with both fielding near full-strength sides, the Bulls looked far sharper and played at a significant pace, denting the Cheetahs hopes ahead of a big season.
Led by an exceptional Francois Hougaard, who showed he is just as dangerous behind the pack as on the wing, the Bulls struggled to find their feet in the first half, but accelerated in the second to leave the Cheetahs trailing in their wake.
Hougaard was exceptional on attack, determined on defence and combined well with his forwards to leave a lasting impression, while loose forwards Dewald and Jacques Potgieter both played their hearts out, the latter denting the Cheetahs defence with some massive runs.
However, a special mention must go to Francois Venter. Under pressure from IRB Junior Player of the year Jan Serfontein, the other Grey College centre was dangerous on attack and made some telling hits when it counted to come close to a man of the match performance.
The scoreline could have been much bigger, had the Bulls not fluffed four chances in the first half. In reality, while the Cheetahs defended well in the first half, they also scrambled well but had little ball to play with and did little when they got it.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske will be happy his charges defended against the tide in the first half, but with so much to attack from the Bulls finally found an opening.
The only score from the first half was Dewald Potgieter’s drive over from a lineout maul. The Cheetahs played into the Bulls hands by losing no less than a half dozen lineout balls, and struggled to get going.
In the second half, it didn’t take the Bulls long to add to the scoreboard. While the Cheetahs had missed two penalties through Elgar Watts in the first half, Morne Steyn added two of his own in the second to stretch the lead – the second being a 56metre bomb from inside his own half.
At 13-0 the game was delicately poised, but Hougaard and co ripped it away from the visitors as they scored twice in three minutes to make the result safe.
Hougaard took the ball from a scrum, stepped Sarel Pretorius so perfectly that his opposition number was left grasping at air, then chipped over the Raymond Rhule and was about to score, but was taken out by Francois Brummer in the tackle. The ball rolled forward and Venter pounced to score.
A minute later, a Cheetahs mistake at a ruck was exploited, with the ball popping out and no scrumhalf, Hougaard nabbing the ball and sending Lionel Mapoe away for a try to make it 25-0.
The Cheetahs finally found their heart, and found some phases to attack, putting the Bulls defence under pressure. It was no surprise when Willie le Roux stabbed a perfect grubber behind the defence and only Johan Sadie and Raymond Rhule were left to chase, with the winger dotting down for his side’s first try.
Rhule and Sadie combined again a few minutes later, attacking the blindside and Rhule this time giving the scoring pass for Sadie to go in at the corner, but it was too little too late.
The Bulls ended as well as they had begun, with Wynand Olivier ghosting through the defence to be stopped short of the line, and Jurgen Visser there to collect and finish off the try.
The Bulls will feel rather healthy at the end of all this, knowing they have depth, talent and are looking better prepared than last year. The Cheetahs will scratch their heads and do a rethink. The same old problems are back again and unless coach Drotske finds a solution they may have a long season ahead of them.
In the curtain raiser between the Vodacom Cup sides, the Blue Bulls beat their Limpopo Blue Bulls counterparts 89-5 with the game being stopped in the 69th minute. Limpopo Blue Bulls will play in the competition for the first time as a province this year, and already the task ahead of them looks massive.
- Tries: Dewald Potgieter (1), Francois Venter (1), Lionel Mapoe (1), Jurgen Visser (1)
- Conversions: Morné Steyn (2), Visser (1)
- Penalties: Morné Steyn (2)
- Tries: Raymond Rhule (1), Johann Sadie (1)