Following the first phase of the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers playing against European opposition in the new United Rugby Championship, The Citizen takes a look at how the teams performed in their first four games, all abroad.
In this, Part One of Two, we look at the Bulls and Sharks.
Although they lost three of their four games in the UK, there was no doubting the effort the Bulls put in or their desire to learn. From not learning much back home as they dominated all-comers, the Bulls now have a better idea of what works in Europe.
The victory over Cardiff and the unfortunate loss to Edinburgh showed they are on the right track. Their only major injury worry is flyhalf Johan Goosen, and Chris Smith or Morne Steyn will adequately fill the breach.
Their opponents shone a bright light on the Bulls’ breakdown work and they were found wanting at both defensive and attacking rucks. They were caught out by the pace and accuracy which the European teams bring to the ruck; the Bulls were too often slow to react and also prone to going off their feet or not allowing the half-back clear access by getting caught on the wrong side.
They will hope for a slight easing of the tempo under the hot Pretoria sun. Their scrum was also creaking in the last game against Edinburgh.
Wings Madosh Tambwe and Kurt-Lee Arendse proved a handful for their opponents whenever they were given some space to work their magic. Tambwe has been based in Johannesburg and Durban before Pretoria, but the consistent excellence of his performances on tour suggest the 24-year-old could be settling down with the Bulls.
Arendse is accustomed to playing in cities all over the world through his time with the Springbok Sevens, and he handled European conditions with aplomb, producing slick attacking play whenever he got the chance.
Luck’s been against them so far, but the Bulls face a crunch must-win home game against mighty Munster on November 27 and will also be targeting a bonus point win the following weekend against Scarlets. The match against Munster will be particularly appetising because they are now steered by Johann van Graan, who left the Bulls in 2012 as a highly promising young coach.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, the European teams come to South Africa now and historically we have done really well at home,” coach Jake White said.
The Celtic teams are known for their emphasis on forward play and the Sharks pack were hard-working and generally stood up well to the challenge in the tight. Ruan Pienaar is really growing into his role as the team’s new general, Boeta Chamberlain is steadily improving at flyhalf, and, when the Sharks execute their game-plan properly, they remain very difficult to play against.
The Sharks had their problems at the breakdown – join the club say the Bulls, Stormers and Lions – and it is a vital part of the game-plan the Sharks want to use.
Putting aside the vagaries of law interpretations, the Sharks need a more cohesive, focused effort at the rucks. They also need more cohesion in defence, a couple of early blunders that led to soft tries costing them dearly against Cardiff.
The doors have opened for young Dylan Richardson to represent Scotland, the country of his father’s birth, and little wonder because the flank cum hooker has been a potent force for the Sharks.
Defensively stout, he has been their leading tackler, he is tough to keep out at the breakdown and he smashes through players with ball-in-hand.
What’s next? The Sharks will see their next two games, against 13th-placed Scarlets and bottom side Zebre, as a direct route into the top half of the URC table. Playing at Kings Park, nothing less than two bonus point wins will do.
Coach Sean Everitt was almost licking his lips when he said last weekend “we are really looking forward to November 27 and playing in front of our home fans.”