The Not So Super Semi
Waterkloof Reis Agentskap had cause to celebrate on Saturday morning as the Chiefs brilliant victory over the Crusaders meant that Bulls management
had to provisionally book flights for Auckland and a bus ride down to The Waikato. Sadly, the commission was lost as the Bulls failed to execute their less
than secret Plan A - and since Jake White already had return tickets to Canberra - Capital Territories Travel were left to finalize the shorter trip across the
Tasman for the deservedly smug Brumbies.
Local newspapers probably make too much over what they think is Jake White’s specific delight in beating South African teams - but there can be no doubt
Jake was more than pleased with the result the Brumbies got on Saturday. White is a competitor and he would probably even have skipped the hand-
shakes (if it weren’t rude) to immediately start planning how to beat the Chiefs next week. But perhaps on the plane back to Australia he would have allowed
himself a self satisfied moment - being as he was - entirely vindicated for two of his comments over the last few weeks. The 1st was that he found Australian
rugby players individually smarter than South African players. And the 2nd was that he knew exactly what the Bulls would do in the Semi, that there would be
absolutely no surprises from them - and that the Brumbies knew exactly what they had to deal with if they wanted another Super Rugby Final. Eighty odd
minutes of rugby at Loftus on Saturday unfortunately proved his points.
The Bulls started with exactly the “week off” hang-over syndrome so many pundits worried about. More concerning was that it became immediately evident
that the restarts would be a problem. The Brumbies split their forces - left, centre and right - and whether they kicked deep or short they created huge
pressure as they contested with a strategic and orchestrated chase. The Bulls - with their huge ball carriers and best defensive boot in the business should
theoretically be strong at restarts, but they looked unsettled and as the game wore on - just plain terrified to receive the kick-offs. It prompted the strange
decision to kick for the corners instead of taking the points later on, and for the many who were severely critical of those choices - the Bulls Captain’s
concerns were proved correct. He felt he had to maintain field position and he felt his team couldn’t deal with the Brumbies restart. Meyer will do well to work
extra hard on Bok restarts in the run up to Tri-nations. Across the field the modern game requires 6 players deep and short to be ready and able to deal with
increasing restart variations.
Many a argument will be held around the Loftus B-field skottel later this year - as to whether Steyn should rather have kicked those points, but the outcome
felt horribly inevitable as the Bulls fudged the eventual restart and the Brumbies backs went through like Grey Bloem vs Westerford. My concern was with
some other Bulls tactical decisions. I am dead-set against the pre-meditated and methodical 60-69 minute substitution fiasco that so often leaves teams with
“fresh” players looking out of their depth at the most critical part of a game. Chilliboy was good, Potgieter - more Yeti than man - was having one of his finest
games (and I am not a fan of his). But both these players were yanked just as the crunch time started. Stegmann - stone cold off the bench had to throw in
at those attacking line outs - and bungled one of them. Young coaches will tell me the game has changed - but you could not have gotten Fitzpatrick off a
rugby field in the last 11 minutes of a Semi final with a digger loader. George Smith is 138 years old and he wasn’t going anywhere, until he heard that final
whistle. I hate premeditated subs, I often wonder what coaches watch on those screens? I’d have had Vermaak on much earlier, he’s been just a tidier and
smarter player all round this season, Hougaard had another imprecise game. And J Potgeiter may have been man of the match had he been left on - he was
so not waning force when he came off - quite the contrary - the whole Bulls tempo slumped a little when he was pulled.
I thought the Bulls played well in patches - and just didn’t have the confidence or experience to persevere with that fanatic wave of attack they occasionally
got going. What didn’t help was that every time they scored points they had to deal with the superb Brumbies restart. JJ Engelbrecht showed really good
strength for his try and I see many pundits had Serfontein in the team of the week. But it is a fantastic win for the Brumbies away on the Highveld, and
admittedly not the first time they have outsmarted the Bulls at Loftus.
I am cautious with my praise or criticism of front rows - it is a part of the game which is currently a diabolical shambles of impenetrable definition and
Kasparovian complexity. And even a veritable refereeing genius can only watch one side of this debacle at a time, the cricketing equivalent of only have an
umpire at one end. Rugby League watchers quite correctly point to this particular aspect of Union as a joke that really needs to be sorted before the next
WC. But I digress.
So great credit must go the Brumbies front row - who have been on the front foot more than not the entire season. They showed superior awareness and
timing when it came to the second shove. This wasn’t Aussie front row tricks - it was a comprehensive performance. Greyling, I thought, eventually got the
better of his Brumbie opposite number only once deep into the second half - but Joubert ruled the collapse was not illegal and merely reset. Head scratcher.
But for the majority of the game the Brumbies turned restarts and scrums into points. Lealiifano, who is a real running, playing, tackling, passing rugby player
who also happens to kick 95% (please read between the lines here….) did the job. Nick White, the other clever White in the Brumbies set-up, had another
superb game. I know the founder of this website would have appreciated the classic scrumhalf technical ability White showed. From his continual badgering
of the ref, his sneaky try-preventing hand under the ball to his precise tactical kicking and passing, he was strong in all the areas that really count on semi-
It should be a great final - it is a huge ask for the Brumbies to haul back yonder and still compete with an exciting Chiefs team- but you’d have to give them
some chance with an astute coach, a game-controlling scrumhalf and a solid goal kicker. You can win a World Cup with that combo you know……!