Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga delivered a fine performance against the hapless Bulls in Pretoria, bagging a personal tally of 20 points, two tries, and one assist. However, as comprehensive as the final 45-13 scoreline was, this was far from a clinical Crusaders performance against a depleted Bulls side.
The visitors dazzled in spurts, but an alarming rate of penalties still gifted away untold amounts of possession and territory. They were pinged 13 times to the Bulls’ four, while heroic Bulls number 8 Duane Vermeulen was able to snatch five turnovers at the breakdown and openside Janne Kirsten got three.
Outside of some great work at the ruck, the South Africans themselves were atrocious with ball-in-hand and even worse in defence once they were tired out by the tempo of the game. The home side simply could not keep up with the Crusaders’ game speed.
Had the Crusaders been at their absolute best, this could have been 80-points on the Highveld. They weren’t, and the Bulls were spared of an unforgivable scoreline in front of a bumper home crowd due to the #duanespecial.
The Bulls’ ability to control the ball deteriorated rapidly under fatigue. The handling errors and erratic passing on show in the second half was embarrassing for a Super Rugby side. It’s not the fact that errors are made, it’s the comical fashion in which they happen.
A high number of cold drops and poorly-placed passes are all unforced, self-inflicted wounds absent of much influence from the opposition. They aren’t performing offloads with a high degree of difficulty or throwing ‘timing’ passes made with trust and delicate running lines – it is basic catching and passing accuracy that continually lets them down far too often.
They are a side, already missing top-line stars, that collectively doesn’t have the skill level to play possession-based rugby after a certain point of running around. Without Jesse Kriel, Lood de Jager and Warrick Gelant, this side was second-rate and never a chance to come close to the defending champions back at full strength. It was a cakewalk that required the Crusaders to be at 50 percent to drop 40 points.
The Bulls are a side that can be physical and can tackle, that’s not the problem. When the game speed is kept in check, they can play a stop-start territorial kicking game around the maul and set-piece that never really tests their anaerobic capacity because the game never gets going, much like most South African derbies.
If you play with ball movement at a decent clip, their tires blow out and you can run up the score. They are built to be competitive in the South African conference, not in the New Zealand one, and play a style suited to do so.
The Crusaders exposed them as slow, tired, and immobile, unable to regenerate their defence after 20 minutes. They were forced to play a way they have only once this season – against the Chiefs, who must be said, put 56 on them, more than what the Crusaders did.
Eventually, the windows opened and the Crusaders could strike in a canter, on counter-attack targeting lethargic tight five forwards and poor efforts from the defence folding on set-piece. The cross-field kicks further exposed a fellable back-three unit.
After the Chiefs hammered them, few were talking about either McKenzie brother taking over Barrett. They shared first receiver duties in Pretoria after Jack Debreczeni was injured early and combined for four try assists, three line breaks and were involved in some way in 41 of the 56 points.
Mo’unga impressed against poor opposition, which he should do based on the class he has shown over the last three years.
Bulls coach and Handre Pollard after loss to Crusaders:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.