The Vodacom Bulls slumped to their fifth defeat in nine games this year, losing 19-12 to the Waratahs in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Sydney on Saturday.
The same problems that have hurt them all year compounded again for the Bulls as the Waratahs broke a nine-year losing streak against the Pretoria side and ensured that no South African team has won a match in Australasia this year.
This is now the 11th game for South African sides abroad, and they’ve tasted defeat in all of them, although for the Bulls it can be said that if they would simply correct the problems that they struggle with every week, that could probably change.
The Bulls now head to Perth, where they will face an in-form Force side in the last game of their tour, before heading back to their beloved Loftus Versfeld.
Still, the headaches in the Bulls management must be apparent as their hopes of reaching the playoffs seem to slip further and further away with every away defeat.
Again it was a case that the opposition got a better start than them, scoring in the opening minute of the game, and again the Bulls had to chase the game. Again when they carved their way back into the match it was their own lack of execution that cost them, not to mention the lack of a fetcher at the breakdown.
Week after week Frans Ludeke is quizzed about the lack of a fetcher, and week after week he defends Jono Ross in the position. Unfortunately the stark truth is there week for week as well, as Ross is a natural 8 and has struggled at this level of the game, while the second fetcher – normally the hooker – in this case Callie Visagie makes absolutely no impact on the team.
If you consider that Ross and Grant Hattingh are both playing out of position, and the lack of game time given to the promising youngsters such as Handre Pollard, Bongi Mbonambi and William Small-Smith among others, the Bulls will continue to fool themselves that nothing is wrong with their game.
It can’t be a coincidence that the Bulls revival coincided with the departure of Kurtley Beale. The Wallaby playmaker was the cause of much of the Bulls’ headaches throughout the game, with the bulk of Will Skelton and Jacques Potgieter adding go-forward ball for them.
On the positive side, the role of Dean Greyling, Flip van der Merwe and Jan Serfontein – the latter with a mammoth role on defence – were all encouraging, but there were too few positives from this loss to leave anyone satisified.
It took the Waratahs just 28 seconds to drive the first stake into the Bulls’ heart, putting the visitors on the back foot almost immediately from the kickoff.
After winning the opening high kick of the game, the Tahs’ immediately spread the ball to Adam Ashley-Cooper. The Bulls’ defence wasn’t aligned, with Dean Greyling and JJ Engelbrecht next to each other, and when Cooper looked to go inside, Engelbrecht hesitated, before taking him too high in the tackle, allowing Ashley-Cooper to put the perfect inside pass to a flying Israel Folau for his ninth try of the season.
And from there the rest of the first half was one way traffic. The Waratahs made inroads with almost every time they ran the ball, but thankfully for the Bulls, five forward passes stopped them from extending their lead too easily, as Kurtley Beale and Folau looked dangerous every time they touched the ball.
The Bulls heaved a sigh of relief when it was only the boot of Bernard Foley who added two penalties in the first half, and they managed to sneak two late first half penalties back to go into the break 13-6 down.
Considering how little ball they had, and how the Waratahs started the game, the visitors may well have been down on the scoreboard, but would have been more than happy that they weren’t further behind at that stage.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter added a third penalty for the night to bring them within four points, and it looked as if the momentum had shifted, the Bulls had weathered the storm and were coming back into the game.
But three times they entered the Waratahs 22m area and three times they lost the ball, simply compounding the same execution problems that have plagued them the entire season.
Foley added another penalty to push the Waratahs ahead, and when Grant Hattingh’s moment of madness - a clothes-hanger tackle on Michael Hooper – cost him and his team 10 minutes in the bin, the game was all but over as Foley made it a 10 point game.
The Bulls didn’t stop attacking, earning a penalty in the 76th minute to bring them within the seven point gap, but when Michael Hooper grabbed the ball in the 80th minute and won a penalty, the Waratahs had stopped a long nine-year losing streak.
Tries: Israel Folau. Conversion: Bernard Foley. Penalties: Foley (4).
Vodacom Bulls -
Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3), Handre Pollard.