Super Rugby 2018
Chiefs vs Bulls
Final Score: Chiefs 41 – Bulls 28
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
I know that there are a number of Bulls supporters who have joined the famous Doom & Gloom Club. The club where all that is South African rugby is the subject of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. A place where gloomy predictions abound and tearful recollections of the dim and distant and Oh, So, Glorious past are favoured topics. This is not a place for optimists, their motto is “Mentem Omnia In Deterius.”
Some of the members are particularly suicidal after any weekend when their team or teams have not performed to their oft unrealistic expectations.
If you are such a D&G member, one of those who threaten to never watch a rugby match again, ever! Or one who has an inclination to join similar institution, you probably missed the Bulls game against the Chiefs in favour of some other more self-satisfactory pastime. Perhaps you trimmed your toenails, or watched a replay of some Curling from the recent Winter Olympics?
If you did, you missed a cracker of a rugby match!
The Chiefs claimed a very hard-fought 41-28 victory over the Bulls in Hamilton on Friday. The score might tell of a 13 point spread at the final whistle, but it was much closer than that. A try at the death gave the Chiefs the extra distance, when Anton Lienert-Brown pounced on a handling error by the Bulls, who were still intent on running the ball to try and win the game!
This was a highly entertaining game, as both sides employed fast, expansive game-plans. These were not the Bulls of last weekend when they played the Reds. These were a completely different breed of Bulls, and they played fast, hand-to-hand, running rugby.
Any South African with a bit of belief that South African rugby has the potential to fix what is broken on the field of play, will take heart from this performance. The Bulls are very much a work-in-progress, and anyone with a bit of rugby nous will know that it takes more than a couple of games to turn a team around from the depths to which the Bulls plunged in the last couple of years. But the signs are good! 2018 will not be the Bulls year, but if they keep on building on the foundation they laid against the Chiefs, they will be a power in Super Rugby again.
I know that one swallow does not signify summer, but this was no wandering bird. The Bulls have shown flashes of what they can do since their first game, and this week they showed it for a much greater portion of the game.
I have read the knockers who suggest that this was a hugely understrength Chiefs team, missing as many as 14 regular 1st teamers, and that any team worth its salt would have knocked them over. Those are the same people who will celebrate the Stormers win over the Blues without mentioning that this was probably the Stormers 3rd choice team, with some fourth and fifth choice players making up the numbers.
They are forgetting that the Chiefs have some real depth in their over-all squad, and in their feeder structures too. And they have huge pride and esprit de corps!
The Bulls held the upper-hand for long stretches of this game, but a superb second-half from the Chiefs, drawing on their senior players and the depth of their rugby abilities, eventually proved too strong for the Bulls.
I am not going to bore you with too many statistics and clinical analyses of incidents and tactics.
I do, however, want to point out a few significant numbers. The Bulls actually made more meters with the ball in hand than did the Chiefs. Carrying the ball 110 times, they made all of 750 meters. The Chiefs carried the ball 114 times for 742 meters.
The Bulls made 141 good passes out of 157 thrown, to the Chiefs 102 good passes out of 128 thrown.
The Bulls made 10 line-breaks to the Chiefs 9.
These are all signs of progress for the Bulls.
Both sides had their share of handling problems, as is probable in a high paced, high-risk game such as this one. The Chiefs made 19 handling errors and the Bulls 18.
The worrying statistic for the Bulls will be the 33 tackles they missed, wit a tackle success rate of just 80%, probably their weak point at the moment. The Chiefs missed 22 tackles for an 88% success rate.
A couple of players are worth mentioning.
Handré Pollard is fast returning to the form that saw him rated as one of the top four flyhalves in world rugby a couple of years ago, his injury woes appear to be something of the past and his skills are more polished with each outing.
Jesse Kriel astounded me in this game. After a very poor 2017 and a mediocre start to 2018, he has stepped up several gears and is starting to look like an international 13 again. His running was direct and purposeful, he is passing the ball accurately and with much better timing, his running off the ball has improved beyond telling. And his defence has kicked up a couple of notches! If he and the Stormers’ De Allende continue with the form they are showing so far in 2018, South Africa will have a real midfield again this year.
Embrose Papier is a livewire, but still a bit wayward. I remain unsure of his game management, but in open, broken play he is a handful.
Brodie Retallick was my Man of the Match. Wow, the New Zealander is back on top form, and was here, there, and everywhere in this game. When not involved in the hard stuff he was running and dummying like a centre three-quarter.
Damian McKenzie was, is, and will always be a handful. He has a habit of popping up at the right moment in exactly the right place to cause complete mayhem in the opposition defence. The skinniest legs in world rugby cause the biggest headaches in the game.
A thoroughly enjoyable game of rugby.
Tries: Fa’auli, Retallick 2, Brown, Alaimalo, Lienert-Brown
Cons: D McKenzie 4
Pen: D McKenzie
Tries: Gelant, Rossouw 2, Pollard
Cons: Pollard 4
Yellow Card: Van Vuuren
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa’auli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Tiaan Falcon, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Declan O’Donnell
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (c), 11 Divan Rossouw, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jason Jenkins, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Johnny Kotze