Sias Ebersohn kicked five penalties as the Force turned the Vodacom Bulls tour into a total nightmare, sending the Pretoria side home with a 15-9 loss in Perth on Saturday.
It was the Bulls’ sixth loss of the season, and the first time they have ended a tour without a win since 2008.
After their losses to the Hurricanes, Highlanders, Waratahs and now Force, their prospects of making the play-offs of the competition look bleak indeed. With a game plan that is so one-dimensional and lacks such accuracy, any right thinking rugby fan would believe they’d want to try something else.
But while it was raining, the Bulls single-mindedness and stubbornness on attack was mainly to blame for this loss.
Despite starting off exceptionally well and controlling more than 60 per cent of possession in the opening 20 minutes, they never once looked close to scoring a try.
And while referee Angus Gardiner was at a level that should never have been tolerated in a top competition like this, it was the Bulls who have to shoulder almost all of the blame for their own woes as they were the masters of their own demise.
The loss also brings a haunting statistic very much into focus again – South African sides have now played 12 games in Australasia and won 0 – something that must be giving Bok coach Heyneke Meyer nightmares ahead of the international season.
In Perth the old definition of madness came very much to mind – you know, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
And just like the definition, the Bulls continued to pump up and unders onto the opposition, hoping that the Force would drop one and they could collect and score.
Not only was the lack of ambition on attack so worrying that it deserves a whole different debate altogether, but the first half had a massive 74 kicks – almost two a minute – to illustrate just what a snore-fest the match was.
The second half was hardly any better, and even though coach Frans Ludeke is likely to point to execution as the problem for all their woes once again, at some point you have to ask just how long it will take before they fix it.
After all, the line-outs were good, the scrums solid as a platform and the Bulls defence was solid. But what happened every single time the team received the ball defied belief at times.
To simply kick every ball away is something that isn’t new to Bulls teams under Ludeke. The difference is that in the past he has had personnel that can challenge under the high ball, and halfbacks who have been accurate in their execution of the kicks.
In Perth this was not the case, and even though handling was difficult, you have to wonder why – with five Springboks in the backline – the ball almost never made it past 10.
It must be frustrating to every Bulls fan that the only time the Bulls looked remotely dangerous was when young Handre Pollard took the ball for the first time.
The SA under-20 prodigy scythed his way through the defence and almost scored a carbon copy of the try he dotted down against the Hurricanes.
But that was it. Whenever they had a good opportunity, the Bulls returned to their forwards, kept the ball in close and never got any sort of reward for their efforts.
After three phases, the copybook was the same – pump it downfield and hope for the best.
In the Bulls defence it must be said that the Force weren’t too ambitious either, making just as many mistakes and kicking the ball almost as much.
And the home side had referee Angus Gardiner’s ear, being allowed to swim up the side of the maul at will, and allowed to lie over the ball, while the Bulls were repeatedly penalised at the breakdown.
Still hometown refs are not a new thing in rugby, and the Bulls simply don’t have the personnel to make a massive difference as they used to.
Gone are the days of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn landing a ball on a R2 coin, of Bakkies Botha rumbling forward and Danie Rossouw inflicting hurt as he took the ball forward.
In comparison this side is a shadow of the one that dominated Super Rugby and now only has Victor Matfield – ageing and often on his own, trying to stem the tide.
The Perth scoreline might not look like such a disaster for the Bulls, but when you consider their own high standards, and what they have produced in six defeats this season, it tells a sorry tale.
Fortunately for the Bulls, they return to Loftus Versfeld next week against the Cheetahs, with four of their remaining six games against South African sides.
But even that may not be enough to get them into the play-offs, unless they make some major changes in the remaining weeks to both their playing personnel and game plan.
Force- Penalties: Sias Ebersohn (5).
Vodacom Bulls - Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2), Handre Pollard.