Waratahs vs Bulls: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

The Waratahs crashed to another close defeat in another lost opportunity to move up the Aussie conference ladder.

What are we talking about?

GROUNDHOG DAY

Asked post-match what had gone wrong in Pretoria, Michael Hooper replied: “You know, the usual things.”

It was probably an off-the-cuff line to tee up the usual reasons for defeat but the Waratahs’ loss to the Bulls also felt like a very specific brand of NSW defeat.

Namely, a self-inflicted one.

The Waratahs’ discipline, inaccurate breakdown work and frazzled option-taking turned what was a winnable game into a losing bonus point. The only thing missing was Ned Ryerson.

Loftus is a hard place to win, no doubt.


And to that end, for the Tahs to get so close to victory is both a fair effort and a massive frustration. 

The Tahs were clearly keen to use the ball and keep it alive, with pace and offloads and over 150 passes in total on the day. It represented a big shift from the high-kicking tactics seen in recent times.

When it clicked, it made the Bulls look like Brown’s cows, and despite going down early, you had the sense NSW could sweep in several tries and win.

But it clicked all too rarely. Handling mistakes hurt, and so too the lack of breakdown numbers.

Then throw in an intercept pass and penalties in the extremely long-range of Handre Pollard and a winnable game was let drift away.

The Waratahs have now lost six games and the losing margins are thus: 1 point, 6, 2, 3, 8 and 7.

HIGH HOPES

The Waratahs have a rare advantage for this week’s clash against the Lions. Or less of a disadvantage, at least.

Unlike most trips to Johannesburg, they’ll be acclimatised to the high altitiude as well.

NSW have a Bulls-Lions swing, which means they’ve been on the high veldt since last week.

Normally the Lions use a high tempo game early to burn the lungs of their rival, and then run home to victory over the sapped visitors in the last quarter.


It's a geographical advantage they've ridden to many victories. 

But this time, the playing field will be level.

And the Waratahs have to make the most of it. After the Brumbies and Reds both had wins in Africa, NSW have to come home with five points or more or they’ll be left behind on the Australian conference.

Season-defining week ahead. Again.

MAD DOG VS OLD BULL

If you catch a replay of the Waratahs game, be sure to watch for the old bull-young bull battle throughout between Lachie Swinton and veteran Duane Vermuelen.

It warmed the heart. 

At the start and end to their respective careers, Swinton, 23, and Vermuelen, 32, were at each other for most of the game. And though the old Bull got bragging rights with his long intercept try, Swinton stood up well.


It’s a fair sign of why people rate the mad-in-a-good-way Swinton. He is a dogged competitor and didn’t shirk the tough stuff, in a personal way, with a 45 -cap Springbok.

Also while we are on the backrow - Ned Hanigan had a strong game at no.8. Knock yourselves out Facebook commenters.

DOCTOR SCRUM I PRESUME

The fact Tom Robertson returned to rugby just six months after a knee reconstruction is impressive. The fact he returned in a Super Rugby game, even more so.

The fact he came on and instantly turned off the scrum dominance of a very powerful Bulls front row - well, that was remarkable.

Robertson is a quiet achiever of Australian rugby and a good man to boot.

It’s great to see him back in boots and doing his thing. In a strongly-contested front row category, Roberston’s half-hour in Pretoria shows why he’ll be pencilled in for Tokyo already.

COMMENTARY CLANGERS

You shudder to think of the way Australian TV commentators have butchered some of the names of South African players over the years.

But it’s been hard not to laugh this year when the South African commentary crew have had a crack at some Aussie players’ names.

Samu Kerevi became “Serevi" early in the year and Karmichael Hunt became “Michael Hunt” on Saturday night.

He was entitled to ask: “Dude where’s my Kar?”

I’ll see myself out.