Bulls vs Lions – Superhero Sunday: 19 January 2019

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A dramatic win for the Bulls and a far more entertaining game than the Sharks vs Stormers game. Not without its mistakes though…

The TMO was slightly controversion in the Sharks vs Stormers game and it could have resulted in 2 tries for the Sharks. In this game however the decision to award the 2nd Duncan Matthews try could have changed the outcome as well. It was unclear if Jamba Ulengo’s foot was in touch, but the touch judge had his flag up for a while.

Hopefully, there are not too many such decisions throughout the season in Super Rugby.

My initial thought was that the Sharks and Stormers would be the leading teams, but on the evidence of this game, the Bulls and Lions look to be the better teams.

The Bulls created more than we are used to

When you think about the Bulls you don’t think about creativity. You think about the relentless bullying of opposition teams into submission.

There were glimpses of it in 2019, but a lot of it in this first outing of the season. To be very honest there were a huge number of mistakes throughout the game as well by the Bulls, but you could clearly see the intent. By creating enough opportunities and sticking to their game plan, they were able turn over a 7-21 deficit.

The New Zeeland Super Rugby franchises have been doing it for years. They create far more opportunities and despite the error rates, they convert enough of the opportunities. If the Bulls can eliminate a higher percentage of errors, we are in for an interesting ride.

The Bulls looked after their main facets fairly well making sure that they had strong scrums, efficient lineouts and fast work at breakdowns. Okay, so their lineouts weren’t vintage Bulls quality, but still effective enough.

The effectiveness in these phases and recycling the ball at the pace that you normally see the Lions doing it at, gave their backline a lot of ball to experiment with.

Morne Steyn was very effective in many ways and a far cry from the pragmatic flyhalf we knew a few years ago. He was a lot more creative and set up loads of play around him. The altitude messed a bit with his kicking at times, but you could see the intent.

His main effective partners in crime was Cornal Hendricks and Manie Libbok. The two of them really added an extra dimension to the game, which made for great watching.

So what did the Lions do wrong?

Not much really. In almost everything they did, they were effective but were more error-prone.

There were two things that I think they could have improved on and which I know they will throughout the season:

  1. Their accuracy at rucks – there were a couple of occasions where they were bullied off the ball. To go with this they had a few ruck penalties that went against them
  2. Speeding up the ball and creativity – they were a lot more conservative in the way they played. It is not the way they play rugby and they are not great at it

This isn’t the normal way they play and they shouldn’t change their style for anyone. It will however come back during the season. You can still see it in the players and we are really looking forward to it.

Earlier on I was singing the praises of the Bulls #10, but you can’t overlook the impact that Jantjies had. He looked well-rested and focused on the job at hand. He had a couple of great touches throughout the game. I do hope that he stays injury-free and that his confidence keeps growing.

You only need to look at the thinking around the Jantjies cross-kick to Skosan for the try. THAT is Lions rugby. We want more of that.

Outstanding players

Bulls: Morne Steyn, Jaco Visagie, Cornal Hendricks, Simphiwe Matanzima, Jeandre Kruger, Manie Libbok

Lions: Elton Jantjies, Duncan Matthews,  Marnus Schoeman, Andre Warner

ThysRugby man of the match: Elton Jantjies (with an honorable mention for Morne Steyn

Plays of the game

  • The creativity of the Bulls. I know it is not a play, but came as enough of a shock that it had to get a mention
  • Duncan Matthews 2.0. At the Bulls, he showed that he is a good player, but he would not have reached his full potential. At the Lions, they have something else in the water that allows players to really become all they can be. His two tries were well worked and well deserved
  • The Jantjies cross-kick to Courtnall Skosan for the try. A thing of beauty!

Final Verdict

Bulls: A decent 7.5/10. They surprised with their creativity and deserved the come-from-behind win. If they can reduce the number of mistakes this might be a far better season than I hoped for!

Lions: 7/10. There was really not much in it and they look good overall. They need to go back to the Lions rugby that we have grown to love over the past few seasons. That is their winning recipe and what makes them one of the most dangerous teams in Super Rugby. THAT style of play makes them as dangerous as the Hurricanes in full flight.