Now the Bulls run with their backs and the Stormers drive with their forwards...
Yes, times and with it the rugby laws have changed. But Saturday’s two losses by South Africa’s two leading teams over the last 80 years showed a complete turn-around from their perceived, and one thought in-grained, playing styles.
In days gone by, the franchise Bulls (or Northern Transvaal if one goes back even further) played a dour, conservative game built on forward dominance. They won more Curie Cups since becoming an independent union in 1938 than the second best (Western Province, now the franchise Stormers) who over the years were known as an exciting side that played running rugby.
Not that one can read too much in the Bulls style of play. However, outplayed and thrashed 20-56 by the lowly Chiefs at Loftus of all places, they scored two good tries by their backs; the Stormers three in total, all with driving mauls from lineouts in the match against the Hurricanes where one cannot recall more than one or two instances where the ball went beyond the flyhalf.
What the North and South leading sides had in common, though, was poor tackling.
♦ The major shock was perhaps the fact that the Crusaders lost their first match after 19 wins against the Waratahs, rather than huge 20-56 loss of the Bulls than.
The four match points lost (and there is little doubt that the Crusaders would have targeted a bonus point as well) will rankle as mush as the result – and added to the abandoned match against the Highlanders which has been declared a draw, this has been a real setback on the log for them.
The match against the Otago team was called off following the two mosques killings in Christchurch, the Crusaders home town, ten days ago.
It is of course insignificant compared to the massacre by a madman, but on the rugby front the Crusaders are urgently in need of restoration of their confidence and a solid win, preferably with a bonus point.
They play the Hurricanes, whom the beat in the first-round derby, and the Wellington side will be out for revenge on Saturday. They will also be confident with the knowledge that the Saders can be beaten, albeit it without several All Blacks who were rested in Sydney.
♦ Losing by a 36-point margin as the Bulls did is never acceptable. But it has happened to the Springboks on several occasions, only for them to bounce back the following week or match.
Probably because rugby is a game where the team psychology plays a huge role, probably more so than in any other sport. And when a team is not focused as they should be when the team runs on, the chances of recovering it on the field are remote.
Back the Bulls for a good performance against the Sharks this weekend, even if they don’t win.
♦ How good are the Lions? Or rather, how poor are the Sunwolves? As the season wears on, one will be able to judge.
What is a fact, however, is that the Lions have already improved on their single win outside of South Africa last year by beating the Jaguares and the Sunwolves in this year’s competition. It also equalled the total of two wins in 22 matches by all the SA franchises last year, with the other one coming from the Sharks.
What is also nagging at the back of the mind is to what extent the SA teams and the leading players have strengthened Rassie Erasmus’ belief that the country is in an upwards curve.