Season’s bleatings

April 16, 2014
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The SuperWrap team from Supersport analysed the Bulls game to try and give some answers 

We wish you would start to kick less
We wish you would aim for progress
We wish you would end our distress
And make smiles reappear

If you think you’re stuck in a crowded mall in the middle of the festive season, relax. It’s just us here at the SuperWrap desk putting a tune to our ponderings about our favourite former champion team.

Is there a Bulls fan on the planet that didn’t want to sing along? Anyone, in fact, who didn’t immediately want to clear space under the tree for that? Isn’t it something we’ve all fumingly wished for all too often?

We should have been more careful.

Christmas can come early and this year the camo-clad cattle decided to bring it to us not even halfway into a Super Rugby season.

It is flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter who was wearing the big white beard. Instead of launching countless up-and-unders, he kicked the ball only three times in open play against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday. Twice it went across the field and came within millimetres of being a try, and once it was judiciously grubbered towards the corner flag.

This in a season where Bulls flyhalves averaged more than 12 kicks a match, most of them aimed down the throat of the fiercest counter-attacker they could find.

It didn’t end there. Instead of standing deep and letting others take contact for him, Potgieter was up flat and took on the line an impressive nine times, mostly with stellar success. And what about those outside him? As many as 23 passes and three offloads went their way.

For the first 30 minutes of the match it all went swimmingly for the visitors as they confronted the defence with a smorgasbord of attacking options. The ball went over, through and past any weakness in the wall.

If our wish was for a flyhalf who can add variety on attack, it was certainly granted.

We should have been more careful.

You see: it’s one thing to bring Christmas, another to hand out all the gifts. This time round there were no cheers, just tears.

The problems for the Bulls started with team selection, specifically upfront. Apart from a cumbersome tight five they also chose a loose-trio consisting of Jono Ross, Jacques du Plessis and Grant Hattingh. As far as physical stats go, the three average a height of 1.97m and a weight of 113kg. You can try, but you won’t find a ball chaser anywhere in that pack.

The upshot on Friday was that anyone who took contact anywhere away from the ruck did so on their own. As wider runners like Bjorn Basson and Jurgen Visser started getting isolated, the appetite to use them decreased dramatically. From the half-hour mark onwards, the ball hardly moved past first receiver, and Potgieter was not to blame. He wasn’t there.

Our wish, you could say, was also Granted.

Now the Bulls used their big forward runners in the flyhalf channel and, bar one or two exceptions, no-one came close to pushing the defence back as effectively as Potgieter did when he was still running the show.

The Bulls were up 13-3 when this rot started. In the 31st minute Ross carries it up and gets pushed into contact by Du Plessis who is now in such an awkward body position that he is completely useless as a ruck cleaner. The Highlanders win a penalty, kick it to touch and score off the line-out.

In the 34th minute Du Plessis pushes Flip van der Merwe into a group of defenders. Once again a penalty is conceded and with it that 10-point lead is gone.

The second half would be worse. It starts off with Ross showing us that on top of not being there for his ground skills or carrying abilities, he’s also not much of a defender. First Malakai Fekitoa steps outside him to set up a try for Gareth Evans. Then big lock Joseph Wheeler rubs in the salt by also sidestepping him to set up a try for Fekitoa.

The Bulls are now desperate at 27-13 down, but instead of going back to what worked for them, they start pushing this one-off runner thing harder, often literally. The result, with metronomic regularity, is knock-ons and turnovers by Dean Greyling, Hattingh (a couple of times), Paul Willemse, Marcel van der Merwe and Jacques Engelbrecht. All from where Potgieter should have been receiving the ball.

Instead of going back to what worked for them, they also start shunning kickable penalties in favour of a maul that simply never got going. More than half-a-dozen three-pointers are turned down for no return other than an after-the-hooter consolation try.

All the while Santa is standing there scratching his head.

“I’m getting goosebumps,” said commentator Breyton Paulse while the Bulls were running the ball at the start. Those must have felt like chicken pox by the time the final whistle went.

We should have been careful what we wished for. The Bulls not relying solely on a kicking game to get them across the advantage line is not the pretty sight we all hoped it would be. At least not yet.

Does that mean this boot ban should be lifted then? Not if you ask us.

Continue giving Breytie the goosies, but first get the selections right. If you’re going to play it wider, make sure you have at least two forwards who can play to the ball. Even if it means they are plucked from the obscurity of a Varsity Cup field somewhere.

Continue throwing every option you have at the defensive line, but let the playmaker make the calls. There is a place for forward runners; that place is not flyhalf. Move the point of contact wider, start taking inside passes from 10, anything as long as it’s not the same old, same old time and again.

Finally, and perhaps it’s only us, but learn to get the ball to the right wing without a horde of drifting defenders accompanying it. Both those cross-kicks went to the right-hand corner while almost every pass from Potgieter that went in that direction completely skipped the midfield. Is it possible that he doesn’t trust two Springbok centres to get it to the wing without incident? We hope not.

We should be careful what we wish for, we know. But after giving it some thought we couldn’t help ourselves:

We wish they will learn from this mess
That ball-swinging causes less stress
Their loose-forwards all join Weigh-Less
And they find that next gear

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