Vodacom Bulls in big loss in Albany

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The Vodacom Bulls fell away badly in the second half of their Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Blues in Albany on Saturday, losing 38-14.  Scores were even at the break, but the Blues scored 31 unanswered points to win running away.

The Vodacom Bulls were in the match up to half time, but delivered little in the last 20 minutes of the game, conceding five tries.

Lizo Gqoboka scored a try in the first half, with Handre Pollard converting.

Rudy Paige scored his first try in his Super Rugby career at the buzzer, converted by Tian Schoeman.

Here follows match report from SuperSport.com’s Brenden Nel:

The Blues turned on the heat in the second half, running in five tries to wallop the Vodacom Bulls 38-14 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Auckland on Saturday.

Warning bells should already be ringing for the Bulls, were poor by their own standards against a team which is arguably the weakest of the New Zealand franchises in the Super Rugby competition.

But after a performance like this – which leaves them winning just one of their opening four games in this year’s competition, some serious questions need to be asked about the quality of the coaching team at Loftus Versfeld, especially as they have been the architects of their own demise in all three losses.

The solitary victory came against the lowly Sunwolves as the Bulls have struggled to marshall their defence, letting in 17 tries this season, and six on the night, while their attack has been disjointed and flat, leaving them with a mountain to climb to get back into contention for the playoffs.

Auckland’s loss provided all the hallmarks of a team in trouble as they struggled to match the pace of the Blues, and when things fell apart, their own attack was less than willing to step up as they looked less like a team that has a game plan than one going through the motions.

For weeks now the Bulls have been working on getting their own game plan right – a game plan that fell apart at Newlands in week one and hasn’t recovered since. One that has been hampered by poor selections, injuries and a lack of direction from some of the senior players in the squad.

For all the talk of playing expansive rugby, the Bulls crept back into their shell in Albany in such a fashion that they simply allowed the Blues to dictate both the pace and structure of the game in the second half.

While their scrum was strong throughout, and there were some inspirational performances by Ruan Steenkamp, Lood de Jager on defence and Hanro Liebenberg before he went off injured, there was also no direction behind the scrum, where Piet van Zyl’s service was lumbered, poor and his kicking game hardly complemented the platform he was given.

Then in the backline, the amount of times that players ran the wrong lines, cutting team-mates off – or on two occasions giving away penalties for obstruction – showed just how unsure and disjointed the attack had become. And without it, there was no way they were to beat a side like the Blues.

It is all good and well to pronounce that you will play an expansive game, but if execution isn’t there, and players don’t seem to know their roles, it will always be doomed to fail.

And then there were the unforced errors – some so basic such as Tian Schoeman’s missed penalty touch finder when they were a man up – that simply relieved any pressure they had put on the Blues. Add to this the insistence on gang-tackling the home side – two players on one – that left the defensive line scrambling and led to 24 missed tackles and 13 linebreaks and it was clear the Bulls chose the wrong defensive strategy against the Blues.

Yet the first half it all looked square, with both sides making a number of attacking errors that kept the scoreline low, after the Blues started the game by exploiting the blind side excellently with some killer offloads, for the halfback Augustine Pulu to take an inside pass and run in untouched.

Lizo Gqoboka drew things level as the forwards rumbled up close, and managed to plant the ball one-handed over the line from a pick and go but there was little other to shout about.

The second half saw the defence crumble, with fullback Matt Duffie dotting down twice in the opening 15 minutes – first from the easiest of handoffs on Jamba Ulengo and then from a simple crosskick that beat Ulengo again and saw the fullback pluck the ball out of the air and score.

Ihaia West ran through a gap the size of Tshwane in the midfield to add another on the 66th minute, while the nail in the coffin was Matt Moulds’ 71st minute try as they stretched the Bulls defence past nine phases and watched as the visitors eventually ran out of defenders.

From the ensuing kickoff, a turnover ball and a breakout added another try as Nanai Vai outstripped the defence and made the scoreline look even more comfortable with seven minutes to go.

Paige’s last minute heroics underlined the questions why he wasn’t on the field earlier, but also made the scoreline look more respectable than it was.

And with the Chiefs looming in Hamilton next week the Bulls were left to lick their wounds. And somehow figure out how they’ve dismantled their own game plan before the competition has even hit the halfway point.

SCORERS:

Blues – tries: Augustine Pulu, Matt Duffie (2), Ihaia West, Matt Moulds, Nanai Vai. Conversions: Piers Francis (2). West (2).

Vodacom Bulls – tries: Lizo Gqoboka, Rudy Paige. Conversions: Handre Pollard, Tian Schoeman.

 

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