Johannesburg- Bulls coach John Mitchell admitted his side had seen an opportunity to hit the Sharks early to create doubt in their minds after their long trip back from New Zealand.
The Bulls scored twice early in the game and put the Sharks on the back foot, and then upped the ante to cruise to a big win in Durban against many people’s expectations, according to supersport.com website.
It was a massive moment for the young Bulls team – written off by some after the Sharks’ impressive performances in New Zealand – as they dominated almost every aspect of play and controlled the conditions perfectly in the wet to take all five points on offer.
While the Bulls had a week off in their second bye, the Sharks long journey from New Zealand created an opening for the Bulls, and they hit them early, knowing that an early lead would give them a significant advantage.
Based on a defensive system that is being coached by Mitchell himself, the Bulls suffocated the Sharks normally-physical runners such as Jean-Luc du Preez and Andre Esterhuizen, and worked off some aggressive defence at the breakdown to nullify the Sharks attack more than the home side would have been comfortable with.
“I think when teams come back from overseas it is a hard week. We experienced it before the Stormers but we gutsed it out. We weren’t too flash but we dug in. I guess sometimes you try and put anxiety into the home team as quick as you can and we did it well,” Mitchell said afterwards.
“The conditions played well as well and we always thought that we might have to go to plan B with the rain. I was particularly pleased with the way the drivers of the game – Polly, Ivan and Warrick managed the conditions very well.
“We got a lesson in Christchurch in heavy rain in playing too much rugby in the middle of the field and we looked to exploit space on the edge. We just felt there were opportunities in their backfield.”
The defence has been a hallmark of the Bulls recovery story, and has been something that the team has pride in at the moment, knowing that their attack can feed off the defence and create opportunities through turnovers.
“I think it is pretty clear and obvious that we have quite an aggressive defensive system. It is a very unrewarding system but it requires a lot of work as well. It constantly puts the skill under pressure.
“One of the areas where we want to grow is we want to feed our attack better, as a result of that hard work. We sat down in the bye week to look where we could extract more opportunities in turnover and be better in terms of transition and I thought there was a bit of that early on,” Mitchell added.
Mitchell praised his team’s defence as the key to the victory, but in particular how they controlled the flow and pace of the game when the rain came down, something that was key to the victory.
“I just thought we spent a bit too much time in our own half in the latter stages of the first half which gave the Sharks structure and allowed them to control stages of the game. And then clearly force the referee to make the decisions at the end of the field.
“The second half was more about making sure we controlled field position and gave them their structure so you saw the ball stay on the grass a bit more. We lost a couple of ping-pong battles but generally at the end of the day it also sucks up time in wet conditions as well restarting the setpiece.
“I think we enjoy defence and we’re starting to enjoy it. The guys really own it. It is more than just a system, there is personal pride in it. But it also feeds attack so you saw that. We need to get better in parts of the game so we can feed our attack, that’s where confidence comes as well in scoring tries – and you have to score tries in this competition.”
The Bulls now face the Rebels in their next contest at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.