Well, after my false start in Super 12 this year, I was keen to get to the ground for the game between the Tahs and the Bulls.
It seemed strange to be going to a game against the Bulls unsure of the outcome of the match, but there you have it. The Bulls arenít quite the same team they have been in the recent past and that's a good thing.
Also for those that werenít aware, the Waratahs were nearly all still recovering from some illness they managed to pick up last week. Reportedly Rogers was worst hit. This seemed to affect his game a lot early, but he worked his way through it by the end.
A mild night for the game, featuring occasional patches of spitting rain just to mix things up a bit. Nearly 30 000 streaming into the ground, late, as is usual for a Sydney crowd. Nearly witnessed a fight at one point in the game when the drunk fool next to me spilt rum and coke all over some sober patron in front of him.
Anyway, what was I talking about? Ah the game.
Bulls kicked off and the game was underway. Iíll let you know right now that the first half was a shocker. Spilt ball, lack of ideas, and a bit of an arm wrestle.
The Bulls got an early penalty near the Tahs 22, which was duly slotted. Somewhere about the same time (Canít remember which was first), the first scrum of the game was set down the Waratahs end of the field with a Waratah feed. The Bulls smashed them, screwing the scrum well over 90 degrees clockwise. Unfortunately for the Bulls, they then drove the scrum over their own halfback, Joost van der Westhuizen, which took out the feet of the Waratahs back row and collapsed the whole mess on top of him. Having sixteen forwards land on top of him was too much for poor Joost and he had to leave the field after only 2 minutes or so.
The Waratahs had early opportunities to equalise the game, but elected to take lineouts near the Bulls line instead, a gutsy and/or stupid move for a team that were again losing a good number of their own throws, and again because they were being too fancy with the lineouts.
A positive move nonetheless as it gave them a chance to run the Bulls suspect forwards around more. Waratahs were playing with both territory and possession. Most of the first half was played down the Bulls end. They made a statement early in the week that they were going to run the Bulls around everywhere, and it certainly looked like they were doing that reasonably well.
The Waratahs were right on attack for most of the first half and the Bulls were scrambling to defend. Having said that the Tahs just could not make the pressure count. David Lyons, barnstorming as usual, nearly went over out wide to the right but was held up brilliantly over the line. When Phil Waugh went over in the left corner and fumbled the ball unopposed, the crowd, already fairly bored, went quieter still.
The Bulls were no better, in fact they were worse, putting on an equally bad display of basic skills, but mounting nowhere near the pressure their opposition was managing.
This combined with a couple of missed kicks to Burke during the half, was going to make for a pretty poor spectacle. Fortunately for both the home side and the crowd, Rocky Elsom finally managed to cross on the left and run around to plant the ball under the posts, making for the only try of the half.
The Waratahs lost four of their own lineout throws in this half, were turned well in the scrums by the Bulls on Al Baxterís side, pressed the Bulls defensive line well but were unable to convert till the end.
The second half saw more of the same, except the Waratahs went back to a more simplified set of lineout tactics, which worked somewhat better for them, and the Bulls started looking more tired.
Matt Burke went off in the 47th minute with what looked to be a knee injury for Morgan Turinui. The game continued to move along with little going on, Mat Rogers taking over the kicking duties and making as poor a fist of it as Burke had.
Going into the final quarter, it was obvious the Bulls forwards were really tiring. They were no longer dominating the scrums as they had in the first half and the Tahs were even getting the better of them on occasion. To rub salt in the wound, the Waratah forward pack managed to put on a brilliant maul to force a pushover try to Cannon somewhere about three quarter time.
It must be noted that the Bulls pack also managed a big maul late in the half, marching the Tahs a good 25 metres upfield. When your intrepid reporter saw Nathan Blacklock coming on, he could have been heard to remark that this was good as it was the first time he would have seen Blacklock in action for the Tahs properly and that he hoped he would score a try.
Ten seconds later, the wish was fulfilled. Blacklock received his first touch of the ball in the backline from over the halfway, ran through a gap in the line, chipped over the fullback and back inside, regathered from over said fullbackís head and crashed down to the left of the posts. Awesome.
The whole game had been making me want my money back until that point. After that it was well worth it. This was one of the finest solo tries it will be anyoneís privilege to see his season, although Iíll forgive Bulls supporters for not liking it much. He is now classified as a Ďsupersubí in my book.
The Waratahs scored again shortly after to Morgan Turinui, and when Rogers converted it (I think this made 3 kicks made from 5 or 6 attempts for the Tahs) and the scores were at 26-9 with the Bulls not even looking like scoring tries to that point that it seemed done. But then the Bulls winger Fredericks scored down the other end after the Bulls managed to put on a good attacking raid and the conversion locked the scores at 26-16.
The Bulls then managed to mount more of an attack and really started to threaten the Tahs line. This was all too late though.
Right at the death, both teams were threatening and then knocking on, advantage being played and the other team threatening and knocking on. It was pretty exciting stuff but nothing came of it and the game ended at 26-16.
Well, the Tahs are now well placed. They are not in the class of the Blues or the Crusaders, but they are not the mugs of the competition either. It remains to be seen if they can keep this going, especially against the Crusaders after last year and the Reds whom they have to put in their place again one of these years. Hey, why not do it while they are down a bit anyway?