Loftus is home to the Anti-Bulls

Jon Cardinelli

Pop quiz, hotshot! Which team scored the most tries in the 2007 Super 14? Which side scored the most points in 2009, and then the most points and tries in 2010?

Need a clue? The best attacking side on show also possessed the most abrasive pack of forwards as well as the tournament’s most accurate tactical kickers.

Believe it or not, the Bulls outperformed the flashier New Zealand sides during the 2007, 2009, and 2010 seasons. After embracing what some described as a ‘conservative approach’, the Bulls racked up try-scoring bonus points, monumental wins, and as many as three Super Rugby titles.

Seven years on, and the Bulls are operating under a new high performance manager and coaching staff. The men in charge have binned the template which brought the franchise success in 2007, 2009, and 2010. They have worked hard to transform the Bulls into the Anti-Bulls.

‘Typical Bulls rugby,’ one fan groaned on Twitter in the wake of the side’s disappointing loss to the Highlanders. The comment wasn’t fair, though. The truth is that Nollis Marais’ charges have failed to play traditional Bulls rugby in 2017, and have paid the price with seven defeats in 10 matches.

The wet conditions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday prescribed a more tactical approach. Both the Bulls and the Highlanders attempted to play the bulk of the match in opposition territory.

In the past, a Bulls side would have viewed such conditions as an advantage. In the past, the Bulls would have had the game plan as well as the players to win the territorial battle and the contest for the high ball.

Overall, the Bulls have looked to keep more ball in hand in 2017. After 12 rounds, they are ranked 15th for kicks from hand and 13th for kicking metres. Nobody can accuse them of kicking too much or attempting to replicate the tactics of the Bulls of old.

What’s more, nobody can accuse them of focusing on defence at the expense of their attack. At this stage, the Bulls have the worst tackle-completion rate (84%) in the tournament.

Have the decisions to focus on attack and kick less solved their problems, though? They’ve scored 23 tries in 10 matches, and are ranked 13th or lower across attacking categories such as metres made, carries, and linebreaks.

Marais’ charges have shown no great urgency to win the breakdowns or collisions. How is that a Bulls side no longer has an appetite for the gainline challenge?

The set-piece performances have been just as disappointing. Overall, the Bulls have scored nine tries from first phase in 2017. Only the Rebels and Sunwolves have scored fewer from the set piece.

Nowadays, it’s the better New Zealand sides that bear a greater resemblance to the Bulls team that dominated Super Rugby in 2007, 2009, and 2010.

The Crusaders and Hurricanes, the top two sides in the Kiwi conference, differ in approach as far as tactical kicking is concerned (the Crusaders are ranked 16th for kicks from hand while the Hurricanes are ranked third). Yet, how often have we seen a New Zealand side using the scrum or lineout as an attacking launchpad?

The Hurricanes have scored more tries than any other team from the first phase (28). Clearly the 2016 champions are generating a lot of momentum at the set pieces and forcing opposition defenders onto the back foot.

Last Saturday, however, the Hurricanes were outplayed at the set piece by the Crusaders. The Cantabrians have scored 23 tries from first phase (which sees them ranked one place behind the Hurricanes. The Lions are in third place with 22 tries).

The Crusaders scored the only try in the derby against the Hurricanes, when they mauled from the lineout.

Expect the All Blacks to use the set piece to similar effect later this year.

- Jon Cardinelli

Let's chat

  • Fanie

    Living in the past mmmm Still waiting for rugby writers to identify the problem.The first serious problem is the Bulls team is not fit or conditioned to play expansive rugby.The second problem is basic errors.The basics of rugby have not changed and if you cannot catch pass and cannot play rugby.Third problem is delayed passes from the scrumhalf.Fourth problem is captaincy Straus never mind being a captain of a team he must rate as the worst player for 2017.Fifth problem is the lines the backs run.Some of these problems are problematic in other SA teams and cohesion of the forwards are non existent locks stand in back line and get carried back by opposition [Etsebeth] in the Lions team it is the opposite where to locks will clean out rucks and mauls so ask yourself have other SA teams taken a leaf out of the Lions book.Can forwards playing rugby be covered under a proverbial blanket. We make rugby very difficult for ourselves but by deviating from the old principles .the basic rules of rugby have stayed the same.

  • Hopeful

    The fact of the matter remains that they have the finest young talent in the country and fail to make that count.

    Where is the abrasive Play and aggression?
    Why aren’t we dominating the set pieces?
    Where is the front foot ball allowing our back line movement and gap options?

    Teach players to do the basics and build from the above and you will slowly develop a more expansive style of play…..any team can throw the ball around but doing it with purpose and go forward requires dominance and meters gained.

    I am honestly most disappointed by the lack of courage and determination shown by our team… some balls lads and if you loose I will accept it….keel over and play without heart and it absolutely kills me…

    • Tinus

      Yes this is true and it all comes down to coaching.Players must be coach on and off the field .It does not help they spend to much time in the gym and getting big muscles but when on the field they are slow and getting tired very easy. All our players in their respective positions are build bigger than their New Zealand counter parts and that is why the NZ teams are so good. There are no conditioning like with Basil Carzis when he was there and then there are no plan A or B set out from the coaching staff.

      • Hopeful

        Whichever way you look at it size counts….but size without conditioning and brains is probably worse than no size at all…..

        We need to harness our natural physique and create dominance and go forward…..that for me is where coaching comes in….break the gain line and link with support….

  • Chris Vermaak

    Each Bulls player is 5 % over rhe body mass they should be. This is because of excessive gym muscle building. It makes them slow. Such work should stop when the first match starts and focus should then go to high speed work only improving ability to recover fast from high energy exertions. That is includes high concentration on perfect execution of skills while breathing heavily. That is what the NZ teams can do and that is why they can win late in the game

  • Amien

    No mongrel in that team. Very young team give them time to gel and it will happen for them. Where were the bulls in 2005, 2004,2003? They were weak. Its natural for a team to take time to gel. As long as they stay together it will work for them. Gi e them time. Remember the blues of late 90s early 20s? Awesome team. They lost the experience and what happened after that.

  • Welcome Motshabi

    The bulls will bounce back and become the best again

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