The threat of rain mercifully halted the Aussies pummelling the Proteas at the Wanderers yesterday.
How the Lions might have hoped for a similar dispensation at Ellis Park.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes for the Sunday Times that Eugene Eloff’s men were so inept in dealing with the conditions last night that one might have sworn rugby was not a game played in the rain — at least not in Johannesburg.
It was a period of play that cost the Lions dearly as it allowed the Bulls to score 16 unanswered points in the first half, which meant by the time the Lions gained the upper hand, when it was dry, their attacks were frenzied because of the deficit.
By contrast, the visitors from across the Jukskei played the conditions to a T.
They hoofed the ball up in the air and let the fact that it was slippery do the rest, making sure they were there to pick up the pieces when the Lions inevitably spilt it.
And despite protestations to the contrary in the build-up to the game, the result was all too familiar.
The Bulls again escaped with the Super 14 points, while the Lions were left to explain what could and should have been.
To suggest that the Bulls won it on adaptability would be misrepresenting the facts. This is because the emphasis on the game under the ELVs is on doing well at the breakdown and kicking well.
The conditions here demanded exactly those tactics, which means the hosts failed to execute what they should have been doing anyway.
They tried to run the ball when the rain was at its driving worst.
With the Bulls defence in particularly abrasive mode, they ended up playing behind the advantage line.
When they were afforded a bit of space, their handling let them down. It’s no coincidence that their best periods were when the rain had abated, which was for the last 10 minutes of the first half and the rest of the game.
This created a situation where each team dominated a half, with the Bulls winning by virtue of having bested the worst of the conditions.
As one would expect from a derby, both sets of forwards tore clumps out of the other.
The Lions had the hit on the visitors at scrum time; and while both sides had their moments stealing the opposition ball in the lineout, one got the impression the Bulls could do it when it mattered most.
Big Bakkies Botha was in his element in such a physical game, harassing the Lions’ lineout, taking the ball over the advantage line, and literally taking the fight to the hosts.
Ernst Joubert, Anton van Zyl and Ashwin Willemse all took turns taking punishment from the big man.
The breakdown was ultimately evenly contested, with the Bulls dominant in the rain and the Lions taking charge once things dried up.
As one would expect in a match like this, there were few standout players other than those buried under rucks. Most of them spent half the time scratching their heads after some daft handling mistake or other.
But the upshot was that due to their handling the big points better, if you will, the Bulls look like title contenders again. The hosts, on the other hand, continued to look hopeful of avoiding the wooden spoon.
Given that they could well have lost in a second half they failed to control, the Bulls will be happy to take their win without a bonus point, as was the case in the first two matches.
But the win came at a cost as Bryan Habana, who was a constant threat, cried off not long after halftime with what could be a serious hand injury.
The Lions, whose stadium was bedecked with “Vote for COPE” advertisements, will have found it ironic that failure to cope when the rain was lashing down cost them the game.
Lions 9 – Penalties: Andre Pretorius (2), Earl Rose
Bulls 16 – Try: Pierre Spies Conversion: Morné Steyn Penalties: Steyn (3)Tweet