Bulls gave Canes a few tips

Oom Rugby

Hi guys, it was fantastic to see the Vodacom Bulls play so well under John Mitchell this weekend. I don’t care what the critics says, you must be doing something right over 80 minutes to beat a team like the Hurricanes – specially if we consider where the manne in light blue was last year!

I was very interested to see what Mitch will do once he get his hands on some prime Pretoria beef, and I was not disappointed! There is one particular thing he have introduced that I want to look at today.

It is called a “tip-on” pass, and it have totally transformed the way the Bulls forwards play.

Above we see a typical three-man forward pod. The carrier can force contact (A), pass out the backdoor to a backline player (B), or he can make a short “tip-on” pass to one of his support runners in the pod (C).

The definition of the tip-on is that it is a short pass made just before contact to a support player running a line close to you. A offload is different because that is a pass made during contact.

The value of the tip-on is that we commit the defence and then we change the point of attack at the last second. And it all happen at speed. So it is hard for tacklers to be “set” because the picture have changed so quickly. They thought they were tackling one guy, but now they must suddenly tackle a different guy. We create conditions where we can dominate contact against a off-balance defence.

Above we see a great example. The tighthead Van Wyk receive the ball at the head of the pod, then at the last moment when the defence commit to him he tip on to his support runner Snyman. Snyman then attack the vacuum behind the committed Hurricane tackler and get the linebreak

I do not think I have ever see a team use the tip-on pass as much as the Bulls did on Saturday. There was a total of 18 tip-ons in the match – that is a lot. The tight forwards alone make 12. So this is a clear blueprint decision by the Bulls that they want to play this way.

Above is another example where Snyman tip-on to Lood. It is quite devastating if you get it right because it is very hard to defend. The Hurricanes was not prepared and at times they look like guys trying to catch zoo animals that has escaped.

Another interesting thing is that we can target the transition zone between the ruck defenders and the backline defenders, as we see above. The big forwards inside is fixed by Snyman, and it is left to the Hurricanes flyhalf to try stop Lood on the charge.

The obvious question is, why does more teams not do it? And the answer is that it is not so easy. It is not something you can just decide to do the day before a match. It is a specific shape with specific depth and timing that you must practice over and over again to get it right.

The carrier must hold and release late, just before the tackle happen.

And he must learn soft hands. The support runners must maintain perfect depth and alignment behind the carrier so they can clean if he take contact, but they can also be ready for the tip-on if it comes. If the alignment is a meter too flat or deep and these shapes does not work.

I can say with great certainty that this is something that the Bulls been working very hard on. It don’t happen by accident.

Opposing teams will counter this by defending narrower and sending more manpower to the contact area. This will create space in other places and it will be interesting to see Mitch’s plans then, and the ability of the team to take advantage when this happen.

Unfortunately, as we can see above, the Bulls backs did not always manage to use space well on Saturday. Odendaal is passing much too early here and the Canes can just drift out and follow the ball. It is ironical, the backs must just do what the forwards is doing and draw-and-pass!

Finally, I just want to add this because it was so lovely to see and it tell us that the Bulls is playing with confidence and happiness.

The lock, Snyman, burst through and look for support, but then he try a reverse sexy pass from behind his back. The pass fail, and it is not something we will encourage in that situation after making such a big gain, but when the TV camera cut to Mitch we see him smiling in the coach booth.

Cheers to the group and well done on the victory. We look forward to seeing how their season go.

DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans.

- Oom Rugby

Let's chat

  • nick

    Nice one Oom.
    Informative and insightful as always.
    I look forward to seeing how the bulls will develop this sleight of hand beyond the initial break the forwards make. Your image of the backs wasting the overlap shows how far the Bulls still have to go.

  • BluePeter

    Nice article. Like the technical stuff.

  • Tomket


    Nice article as always. I would just add one thing. Mitch has clearly had an intense off season drilling this team to perform the tip on passes. Many teams will have one off tip-ons in the tight five. What is much harder is to execute at pace and multiple times over. And to get the timing right, meaning that you properly draw in 1 even 2 defenders. When you have a big hulk like Snyman coming hard at you, you draw 2 defenders and open little gaps. Then if Lood who as 1st receiver does the same, you are starting to tear the defense apart.

    For sure teams will wisen up to this but still so exciting to see the Bulls doing something novel.

    Beyond tactics, Mitch has really given this team focus. They were fit, well drilled and knew what they had to do.

  • Jabu Nzama

    Very insightful piece, once you get past the floored English lol. Instead of putting disclaimers about your English, rather put as much emphasis on writing correctly as you do in your well thought out analysis. Great article still

  • Peter

    So the Bulls win was a fluke….and just like the Sharks and Stormers….early season majority of SA sides already dispatched to rubbish bin of Super rugby competition….and the Mitch hero worship already rubbished after two games….oh well …there is always 2019 …..ha ha ha

Comments are closed.