In the first half, the Sharks were humiliated 35-7 before recovering some honour in the second half when they scrapped bravely to score four tries and give themselves respectability on the scoreboard.
DURBAN – We always knew that Jake White would want to make a statement on his return to South African rugby but few would have predicted it would be as emphatic as this smashing of the Sharks 49-28.
Notwithstanding the fact that this was a warm-up game involving squads of 30-players, the power game of the Bulls in the first half – when the teams were fielding their strongest possible line-ups – was a sight to behold, and it was confirmation that we will see the Bulls of old under White.
In that first 40, the Sharks were humiliated 35-7 before recovering some honour in the second half when they scrapped bravely to score four tries and give themselves respectability on the scoreboard.
But it is mostly on that first period – before the wholesale changes of the second half – that the teams should be judged. As Springbok coach, White won a World Cup with a game based on muscular set pieces; powerful ball-carrying forwards; a territory game from his backline generals, and then precision finishing from the outside backs.
And that is what we saw in that 35-7 score-line at the break.
The Sharks’ coaching staff will know that they left seven (injured) first-choice players at home after a very unfortunate resumption of contact training, but they will nevertheless be concerned at the rank poor tackling that made it easier for the Bulls to score their seven tries.
There was also a reckless tackle from Jeremy Ward early in the game that earned him a yellow card and put his team under pressure.
Also, the Durbanites did not match the strength of the Bulls up front and so battled to initiate momentum.
Despite the Sharks’ backline being under pressure, there were impressive performances from lively scrumhalves Sanele Nohamba (in the first half) and Jaden Hendrikse (in the second), but for me, the best Shark on the day was Blitzbok Werner Kok, whose work rate was outstanding.
For the Bulls, their Blitzboks also sizzled – Stedman Gans and Kurt-Lee Arendse were sensational in their adventure into fifteens. Another stand-out was veteran Cornal Hendriks, who created opportunities for the youngsters to feed off.
The game lost much of its structure after half time when the enlarged benches were emptied, but the looser game created space for some thrilling play from the young speed merchants on both sides.
All in all, there was more good stuff than bad to come out of this post-lockdown hit-out for SA rugby, and Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber would have been impressed.
Bulls (49) Tries: Schalk Erasmus, Stedman Gans, Kurt-Lee Arendse (2), Travis Ismaiel, David Kriel (2). Conversions: Morné Steyn (5), Chris Smith.
Sharks (28) Tries: Grant Williams, Marius Louw, Dan Jooste, Jaden Hendrikse. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2), Jordan Chait (2).