It took the Bulls pack a while to get a lock on the game, but once they did, the home team seemed almost invincible as they surged to a 41-14 win over the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld at the weekend.
But it was the fact that they overcame in such emphatic fashion a first quarter in which the visitors troubled them that pleased Bulls coach Jake White the most.
The Bulls conceded early scrum penalties and had their struggles at the breakdown, but they adapted and fixed both key areas.
They were helped in the scrums by Sharks tighthead Thomas du Toit limping off after half-an-hour with a calf strain.
“We couldn’t get our maul right, the first couple of scrums we were penalised and we didn’t always get things the way we wanted, but the way we came back, the guys adapted, and that was a highlight for me,” White said after the convincing bonus point win.
“I thought the way Duane Vermeulen captained the team after that first quarter, the way he pulled the guys in, was excellent and I was very pleased with the calmness of the team at half-time.
“It’s a relatively new team. They really haven’t played together much, so I was really excited to see how they fought through a tough start and a lot of learning has clearly taken place.”
It was certainly a top-class all-round display by the Bulls, who scored six tries but also defended extremely well to only allow a single try against them. Their forwards brought a ferocious and brutal physicality to the collisions, while the backs had a clinical, ruthless edge.
“I was very pleased to see the tries we scored and when the backs are scoring them it gives you great hope that you’re playing a balanced game,” White said.
“We were able to get that dominance up front, able to get a lot of front-foot ball, and then it’s easier for the backs to play. If our forwards are physical and strong enough, then we have a backline that can exploit it.”
The loose trio of Vermeulen, Marco van Staden and Elrigh Louw was particularly impressive, with the experienced Arno Botha coming off the bench and also making an impact, and White has clearly done some in-depth planning when it comes to getting the loose forward combination right.
“We’re trying to find the right combination and how nice it is to be able to have Arno come off the bench and fit in and have an impact at both openside and blindside flank,” White added.
“It is still a work in progress, but when Duane is on song, he brings an aura. He has now played two consecutive games for the full 80 minutes and clearly the more he plays, the better for us. But we might need to give Arno a chance at eighthman some time too.”