Veteran flyhalf Morne Steyn produced a vintage performance worthy of higher honours as Vodacom Bulls laid down a marker as South Africa’s top side with a comprehensive 43-9 win over the Cell C Sharks in the Rainbow Cup SA at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Steyn kicked 19 points with the boot but it was his tactical nous that reminded Bulls fans of the 2009 vintage Steyn that dominated both South African and world rugby at the time.
Bulls coach Jake White’s unbeaten run at Loftus continued and the result showed how difficult his side will be to beat at their home fortress. The win was all the more satisfying with the bonus point they achieved late in the game.
White’s unbeaten record now sits at 13 games since taking over during lockdown and there will be few arguments on how he has transformed the side since arriving in Pretoria.
Steyn’s boot was a major difference between the two sides as he kept the Sharks pinned back and despite them holding parity in the first half, the introduction of the Bulls’ bench upped the ante and ended up seeing the Sharks disintegrate in the final minutes of the game.
Based on this performance the Bulls will be in prime position when it comes to the end of the Rainbow Cup, but the competition may well be decided on the return fixture in a few weeks’ time.
On a night where the rugby often wasn’t pretty, it was damn physical.
It isn’t surprising that many of these battles are a war of attrition and the Sharks had the better of the physical confrontation in the first half, but never could quite capitalise on their massive possession advantage.
The Bulls bided their time, and used Steyn’s boot well. While they were under pressure for large periods and neither side looked as if they would break the deadlock in the first half, it was the Bulls’ defence that slightly shaded the contest.
And coupled with Steyn’s boot it gave them a slender 12-9 lead at the break.
BRIMMING WITH CONFIDENCE
But then slowly something started to change in the second half. The Bulls bench introduced Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane and slowly the home team started to get the upper hand.
It was a subtle change of tactic and a move to vary their play a bit more, backed by the superb boot of Steyn, that started to pay dividends.
After battering the Sharks line for multiple phases after twice turning down a kick at posts they finally got their reward when Gqoboka dived over for their first try to put some scoreboard distance on their opposition.
Yet possibly the most important part of this ascendancy came on their own tryline shortly afterwards, with the Sharks threatening to reel them in. Walt Steenkamp jumped at the front and stole the Sharks’ ball, winning a penalty in the process.
It was almost as if you could feel the Bulls grow in confidence.
Steyn followed it up with a penalty a few minutes later and the Bulls were now in full control.
Elrigh Louw was put through a gaping hole to seat Aphelele Fassi flat on his backside to create the momentum, before the ball was spun around to Stravino Jacobs to score in the corner.
Suddenly there was a 20-point gulf between the sides and the Bulls were brimming with confidence.
Their defence was operating so well that they stopped a Curwin Bosch surge to the line which on most nights would have seen him score and followed it up with a dominant scrum on their own line to win the penalty.
And to finish off the demolition, a 20-metre rolling maul saw Schalk Erasmus go over, while a last-minute try to Chris Smith underlined it all.
Vodacom Bulls – tries: Lizo Gqoboka, Stravino Jacobs, Schalk Erasmus, Chris Smith. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2), Smith (2). Penalties: Steyn (5).
Cell C Sharks – penalties: Curwin Bosch (3)