Frans Ludeke’s Bulls side lost their first Super Rugby warm-up game against the Southern Kings on Saturday, with the home side scoring a convincing 23-7 victory over the Super 14 champions. While it must be remembered that the Bulls fielded a vastly weakened side, the inability of his backup players to produce any sort of a performance worthy of the blue jersey will have the coach scratching his head a little.
While one should never read too much into the results of a warm-up game, particularly when one side (in this case, the Kings, fighting to claim a place at the Super Rugby table) has far more incentive to win than the other. Those who saw the match, though, tended to remark that the Bulls didn’t really look like they were trying and were certainly nowhere near as fired up as their coastal rivals. That, to me, would be a worrying sign if I were in the Bulls camp, particular given that Ludeke packed his side with young players who should, surely, be eager to stake a claim for Super Rugby selection?
Let’s not beat around the bush here – the Bulls, at full strength and on song, are a formidable outfit. They have proved as much by winning three Super 14 titles in four years but if there were to be a slight chink in their armour, one feels it must surely be the over-reliance on a core of senior players who seem absolutely fundamental to the success of the game plan on the field. Blessed with experienced leaders all over the park, the Bulls real strength is that they trust their structure and their system and everyone knows his place in it. Guys like Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, backed up by a host of other seniors, know the script so well that they can facilitate the gradual introduction of one or two younger players without losing any momentum.
We’ve seen though, over the course of the last few Currie Cup campaigns, particularly during the under-strength phase, that without this core of players, the Bulls look very vulnerable. Yesterday’s result, against a Kings side that is well coached and not short of talent – but also nowhere near world-class, will have added another string to the bow of those starting to question exactly how healthy the depth in Bulls rugby is. Perhaps more concerning than the lack of stand-out individual performances is the fact that the team as a whole seemingly couldn’t get anything going. These are all players who have been in the Bulls system for a while and must surely know the plans and structures inside out. Why are they not able to execute the game without the like of Matfield to lead the way? That, to me, would be the one question that I would take out of this game – the one that needs a serious answer.
Let’s not take anything away from the Kings, though. You can only beat what’s in front of you on the day and with Monty Dumond keeping the scoreboard ticking over in the first half, and Darron Nell and his mates in the loose trio keeping the visitors on the back-foot at the breakdown, Alan Solomons’ side did all they needed to do to run out worthy victors, ad they will take much confidence from this outing, which took place in front of a vocal home crowd at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, who are obviously all incredibly excited about the potential return of top-flight rugby to the region. Perhaps the next Super Rugby franchise to face the Kings will now pay them the compliment of sending a stronger team…
Tries: Siyanda Grey, Matthew Tayler-Smith
Cons: Monty Dumond (2)
Pens: Monty Dumond (3)
Try: Courtnall Skosan
Con: Louis Fouché
Southern Kings: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Norman Nelson, 13 Siyanda Grey, 12 Matthew Tayler-Smith, 11 Paul Perez, 10 Monty Dumond, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Darron Nell, 7 Mpho Mbiyozo, 6 Devin Oosthuizen, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 Rory Duncan (captain), 3 André Schlechter, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 Jaco Engels.
Replacements – from: Jaco Fourie, Ronnie Uys, Riaan Vermeulen, Ross Kennedy, Lungelo Payi, Marlon Lewis, Shane Gates, SP Marais, Frank Herne.
Bulls: 15 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7 CJ Stander, 6 Derick Kuün (captain), 5 Cornell Hess, 4 Fudge Mabeta, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Henry Bantjes, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements – from: Hans van Dyk, Frik Kirsten, Andries Ferreira, Tendayi Chikukwa, Okkie Kruger, Dustin Jinka, Louis Fouché, Bradley Moolman, Courtnall Skosan.