Planet Rugby

Shepherd in full Force at Loftus

16th February 2007 20:38

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Western Force flank David Pusey slips the table of Bulls prop Gurthro Steenkamp

The Western Force pulled off the biggest upset of the season when they outmuscled the Bulls to record a well-deserved 30-27 Super 14 Round Three victory at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday.

The teams scored three tries each, but a personal tally of 25 points by wing Cameron Shepherd - including a near flawless goal-kicking display in which he kicked three conversions and three penalties - proved to be the difference between the two sides. Shepherd also scored two tries.

The win also ensured the Force, after winning just one game in their debut year in 2006, have won both their matches on tour in South Africa and moved to the top of the standings - albeit temporarily.

The Bulls, semi-finalists for the past two years, were left reeling after a game in which the Force came back from a first half deficit - a period totally dominated by the home side.

After the break the visitors simply ran the locals into the ground, sneaking the victory by outscoring the Bull three tries to one in the second half.

The Bulls will continue to deny it, but after Friday there will be many more critics who are prepared to publicly state that the Loftus outfit is predictable and play a brand of rugby that is not suited to the Super 14.

Coach Heyneke Meyer has in the past overcome this by instilling a steely discipline and a rigid pattern in which his side attempts to brutally subdue the opposition with their gargantuan pack.

However, problems arise when the opposition stand up to them and even outmuscle them.

The Force were superb at Loftus on Friday and credit must go to them for their outstanding second-half display of fast-paced and creative rugby - a game in which the obvious flaws in the Bulls' tactics were clearly illustrated.

If opposing sides are able to absorb the physical pressure of the brutish Bulls, and then have the confidence and calm to put their own pattern into action, the Bulls are vulnerable.

The Force did not make as many mistakes as the Cheetahs and the Bulls were exposed.

The Bulls started a little shakily. The Force hit the ground running but this was quickly snuffed out when the Bulls got into their stride. Steyn ranged a couple of punts into touch and the Bulls began their domination via strength in the line-out and strength of the restarts.

The Bulls pack, with Wikus van Heerden and Danie Rossouw prominent, and soon gaps opened up for JP Nel - who twice scored out wide on the wing. This saw the Bulls take a 17-9 lead into the half-time break - while the Force stayed in tough through the boot of Sheperd, who punished the Bulls for their mistakes.

The second half saw a resilient Force side emerge.

They exhibited a self-belief in their style of play and a verve that saw them put in one of the finest displays of running rugby so far in this year's Super 14 competition.

Shepherd was brilliant.

While his goal-kicking kept the Force within striking distance of the Bulls in the first half, it was the brilliance of his running game and deft touches that put the visitors into the lead after the break.

The first of his tries saw him carry two players over the line.

However, while Drew Mitchell put him into space after a delayed pass, he was left with plenty work to do on the outside for his second score.

He grubbered on the run and outstripped the cover defense for a scintillating try that was the key moment in the match.

The Bulls had just extended their lead with an Anton Leonard try down the other end and threatened to squash any Force resistance.

But the Force just kept running. And this, combined with Shepherd's precision with the boot, left the Bulls with no contingency plan.

The Force's clincher came from another movement out wide, when loosehead prop Gareth Hardy exchanged passes with David Pocock down the right and sailed over near the corner.

Victor Matfield marshalled a reply.

However, with the influential Van Heerden inexplicably replaced, the Bulls looked static.

It must be noted that even an out-of-sorts Bulls side had opportunities to win, but a stern Force performance spearheaded by Nathan Sharpe meant the Bulls just came up short time and again.

They had a number of opportunities late in the match to knock a penalty over for the draw, but declined all of them. Finally it was too late.

The Bulls were bullish, but the Force, with Giteau and Pelesasa very influential, created more opportunities and nullified the Bulls style of play with speed and verve.

Man of the Match: Victor Matfield left his mark on the gameand whilst Morné Steyn showed glimpses of his potential. Nathan Sharpe was brilliant for the Force, but finally our Man of the Match is Cameron Shepherd - for a performance that ensured victory for his side and combined the array of skills that only a complete footballer possesses.

The scorers:

For the Bulls:

Tries: Nel 2, Leonard

Cons: Steyn 3

Pens: Steyn 2

For the Western Force:

Tries: Shepherd 2, Hardy

Cons: Shepherd 3

Pens: Shepherd 3

Yellow cards: Anton Leonard (Bulls, 38 - foul play, dangerous tackle), Junior Pelesasa (Western Force, 78 - foul play, spear tackle)

Teams:

Bulls: 15 Johan Roets, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JP Nel, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Marius Delport, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Anton Leonard, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Danie Thiart, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.

Replacements: 16 Derick Kuün, 17 Wessel Roux, 18 Francois van Schouwenburg, 19 Hilton Lobberts, 20 Heinie Adams, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Jaco van der Westhuyzen

Western Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Junior Pelesasa, 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Matt Henjak, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 David Pusey, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Rudi Vedelago, 3 Troy Takiari, 2 Brendan Cannon, 1 Gareth Hardy.

Replacements: 16 Tai McIsaac, 17 Angus Scott, 18 Luke Doherty, 19 David Pocock, 20 Chris O'Young, 21 Scott Daruda, 22 Haig Sare

Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

Touch judges: Keith Brown (New Zealand), Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

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