Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Bulls put to scarlet sword

Zac Guildford is lowered in the tackle of Jacques Potgieter of the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images
Zac Guildford is lowered in the tackle of Jacques Potgieter of the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images

Crusaders 28
Bulls 13

Everyone is used to carnage in Christchurch these days so it was possibly fitting that the Bulls were just another heap of rubble by full-time.

Actually, they were pretty much destroyed long before then. Teetering then cracking before finally collapsing, probably secretly relieved for it all to be over.

The Crusaders took aim between the eyes and fired last night. They didn't miss. All the industrial machinery in the city could have been given a go and collectively they wouldn't have been as destructive as the human terminators who did play.

Richie McCaw was brutal. He looks a bit bigger these days and played like it, too. The skipper was the man the Bulls couldn't put down. He kept coming at them, charging on with little regard for what stood in his way. Corey Flynn followed that lead, Luke Romano, too - the whole pack did and then amped up the attitude and offering on defence.

It was the surging, crashing, relentless tackling that won it for the Crusaders. The Bulls couldn't breathe. The Bulls couldn't go forward. The Bulls couldn't do anything except resign themselves to their fate: that they would be pressured into conceding penalties and Dan Carter would kick the visitors all the way back to Pretoria.

It was always going to be that kind of game: and it was a victory built on passion and intensity. It was a victory that owed much to the conservative tactical approach and the accuracy of the work under the high ball - Israel Dagg mopped up everything - and the speed and efficiency of the chasing line.

There's only one way to play the Bulls and that's to line them up and charge. It can't be pretty when they are around: gentle just won't get the job done.

The entire psyche of their team is built on their ability to front at the collisions and hold their own. Take them on there, get the better of them there as the Crusaders did and the Bulls lose their belief.

The confidence drained out of them as throughout the first half as they were smacked about. The Crusaders just didn't stop: they were plain angry - but angry with control and discipline.

The big Bulls men took a pounding. They were hit at source, driven hard and too many times lifted and held up. Sometimes the Crusaders simply took the ball at the initial hit or they put in a counter ruck that was good enough to disrupt or win possession.

The Bulls were lost. What could they do against such ferocity? What could they do when they couldn't go forward? They couldn't find space, they couldn't really hold the ball and they began to unravel.

Even Morne Steyn was rattled, the first-five strangely erratic. He put a restart out on the full and then fired the ugliest kick of his life into the back of Ryan Crotty. When the beating heart is fluttering, it doesn't send a good vibe to the troops.

And there was no respite for the Bulls. The Crusaders never let up. Carter probed and darted round the fringes and had the defence scrambling.

In stark contrast to Steyn, Carter exuded calm and authority. He had an age to pick his options and it was his delayed pass that sent Zac Guildford through a non-existent hole to score the opening try. Only Carter could have pulled the defence to him, held back then released. Only Carter could have danced about late in the first half and then pirouetted to land an unlikely right-foot drop goal that kept the scoreboard ticking along and the pressure mounting.

Crotty was almost as effective at tempting the defence out of shape and then taking the gap or playing some one through it.

The only disappointment from the midfield contribution was another quiet night for Robbie Fruean. With so many big men on the field and space at a premium, the stage was set for Fruean to bust and rage. It didn't happen which could not have been for lack of motivation. Not only has Fruean being warned that his Crusaders place is in jeopardy, the All Blacks could be in need of a centre for the start of the Rugby Championship as there are doubts about Conrad Smith's availability due to recent eye surgery.

There was a double incentive for the big man to fire up and show his line-breaking and finishing power and yet the game passed him by.

Crusaders 28 (Z. Guildford try; D. Carter con, 6 pens, drop goal) Bulls 13 (J. Potgieter, W. Olivier tries; M. Steyn pen).

- Herald on Sunday

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