Springbok scrumhalf Piet van Zyl put in an inspired cameo performance in the second half as the Vodacom Bulls signaled their intent with a 30-13 win over the Toyota Cheetahs in their Super Rugby pre-season friendly in Polokwane on Saturday, reports Brenden Nel of SuperSport.com
Van Zyl came onto the field as the game had taken a lacklustre tone, and inspired his teammates as they scored three tries – two to the nippy scrumhalf – to run away with the game.
While little can be predicted into the season coming from the results of warm-up games, the Bulls will be happy with what essentially is a second string side winning so comprehensively, while the Cheetahs will have a few alarm bells going off ahead of a tough season.
After all, bar the likes of Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Oupa Mohoje and Japanese late arrivals Heinrich Brussow and Johan Sadie, the Bloemfontein side was fielding their top recruits, and apart from a handful of players there was not that much to write home about.
Sure, the players mentioned above are all game-breakers in their own right, but there are worries in a season which can be long and taxing and where the Cheetahs depth is surely a concern.
On the other side of the coin, Van Zyl’s cameo, and the performances of a number of young players would have had Bulls coach Frans Ludeke smiling, especially with the bulk of his first-choice players playing next week against Saracens in the team’s final pre-season outing in London.
The Bulls were also rocked with the withdrawal of Trevor Nyakane before the Polokwane outing, ostensibly precautionary because of a tweaked neck muscle in training late this week, but had more than enough in their forward pack to keep the Cheetahs very busy.
With the scoreline languishing at 9-6 deep into the second half, Van Zyl put his side into attack mode with a beautiful run from his own line, with the subsequent move only being stopped a few metres from the Cheetahs line.
Then, as the Bulls looked to drive their advantage home, he marshaled a perfect driving maul, then snatched the ball at the back and dived over from close range.
It wasn’t three minutes later when the Cheetahs tried desperately to get back into the game, lost the ball and the Bulls kicked downfield.
A sensational turn of speed by Travis Ismael to outstrip all the defenders gave them the advantage, with the winger popping the perfect inside pass to the scrumhalf to score.
The Cheetahs were falling apart, especially with Duncan Matthews snatching a beautiful intercept seconds later to put the game beyond doubt.
Francois Venter, who looked good at inside centre, scored late in the game to put the Cheetahs into double figures.
The Cheetahs would have been pleased with the efforts of Willie Britz, who made a marked impression, while Joe Pietersen, JW Jonker, Coenie van Wyk, Jean Cook and Lood de Jager all stood out.
The Bulls had a number of standouts, and other than Van Zyl, Jesse Kriel looked like the real deal at fullback. Jacques du Plessis made his mark at four, and can enjoy a good future there, while Arno Botha’s return to the field must be celebrated for simply making it through the game.
Hanro Liebenberg, William Small-Smith and Ismael all deserve honourable mentions, and showed that the Bulls certainly have a lot more depth this season in their squad.
How they will balance the youthful exuberance against the seasoned campaigners waits to be seen.
Vodacom Bulls: Tries: Piet van Zyl (2), Duncan Matthews. Conversions: Tiaan Schoeman (3). Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3).
Toyota Cheetahs: Try: Francois Venter. Conversion: Francois Brummer. Penalty: Joe Pietersen. Drop goal: Pietersen.