Bulls 28 Western Force 15
The ‘glass half full’ version says that the Western Force showed heart and courage last night in the face of adversity and gave the top of the table Bulls a real fright.
However, reality bites in that it was the Force’s 6th loss in a row in a winless season and they’re still the cellar dwellers on a solitary point.
If the Force continue to play an expansive game combined with the hustle, bustle and harassing style of play they showed last night I reckon they’re a chance against the Highlanders, Lions and Cheetahs.
These three games are all away but the Force operate fairly well on tour and with a hopeful return of some big guns may actually hit pay-dirt.
Against the Bulls their overall defence and one-on-one tackling was outstanding. They harassed the Africans into making mistakes and handling errors.
It was only in the last 10 minutes of the match when the Force’s defensive workload took its toll and they were a player down that the Bulls actually looked comfortable.
The Force telegraphed their intention to go wide before the match, and wide they went. There wasn’t much somnambulism in this game.
Wingers Staniforth and Cummins (who seemed to receive a selection reprieve) received more ball last night than Paris Hilton would see in a year.
The problem is that the attack is a little ‘popgun’ apart from JO’C, Spanner and to some extent Barty, although Cummins had his best game so far this season. But they never really looked like scoring tries and this has been the issue.
The revelation last night was Chris O’Young whose service to the backs was pristine and if this expansive style is to continue he’s probably a better bet than Brett Sheehan (who had withdrawn through injury).
The forwards laid a solid platform in the set piece and surprisingly their weakest link, the lineout, has become their strength. Although there weren’t that many lineouts in the game, the Force won all of theirs and one of the Bulls.
The scrum looked a bit wobbly to start with but solidified throughout the match. They even scored a tighthead.
Nathan Sharpe had a huge match in terms of leadership and workrate, continually getting over the gain line with his ball carries. He was ably supported by the remarkable Mr Hodgson, Tom Hockings, Tim Fairbrother and all the other forwards.
The drama this week over coach Michell’s situation appeared to have no overt effect on the players – perhaps it was a weight off their mind?
The only positive of an interminable injury toll is the blooding of a swag of Gen-Yer’s into the Super 14. Last night it was 18 year old Ted the Postie and Mark Swanepoel’s (19) turn.
Gee, they produce some top youngsters in Queensland (Postal, Swanepoel, JO’C, Stefano Hunt et al) although Swannie is another who’s eligible for South Africa, NZ and Oz.
The Bulls spent the first 10 minutes of the match entirely in the Force’s half. Attack after attack was repelled but in the 9th minute Pierre Spies broke through and scored.
Funnily enough, this try was actually a ‘circuit breaker’ that allowed the Force back into the match.
The Bulls intention had been to score tries and whenever penalties came their way they took the line option and mauled or used their backs. However, that didn’t work due to the stout Force defence and they then reverted to type.
The imbalance in field position early in the first half was put right and Force pressure enabled JO’C to punish the Bulls accordingly. He landed 4/4 in the first half and much to the chagrin of the non-believers the Force led 12-10 at the break.
Was an upset of Titanic proportions on the cards? Sadly no. JO’C landed another goal to lead by 15-10 and then it all went pear-shaped with a try to Steyn in the 57 min.
After the referee issued the Force with a team warning, Cross lost his discipline and was yellow-carded for slowing up the play.
This act of stupidity snuffed out all hope that the Force could remain in the match and another try (Kirchner) and a few Steyn kicks ended the dream.
The Bulls were off their game last night but Steenkamp, Spies and Fourie du Preez were the standouts.
Possession stats were 49% Force to 51% Bulls, although at the time it seemed like a lot less. The Bulls were more dangerous with the ball in hand and if the Force had fallen away early it would have been disastrous.
As it was, the Force can be proud of their efforts last night against the top rated team and with a little luck can get that elusive win in weeks to come.
In late news: Nick Cummins has been suspended for two weeks for a dangerous tackle on Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
Put his hand up: Nathan Sharpe. Outplayed Victor Matfield and led the Force around the park with aplomb. International lock who’s best days aren’t yet behind him.
Did himself no favours: Ryan Cross. A ‘one trick pony’, Cross looks woefully out of form and creativity. The yellow card is symptomatic of his season.
Bolter watch: Chris O’Young. Generally regarded as a journeyman (his style reminds me a lot of Nic Berry) but put his hand up with crisp service and cheeky ‘bastard-ism’ around the ruck.