Blue brain brigade

Keo, in his News24 column, writes that the Bulls added brain to brawn in Durban. He hopes it wasn’t a once-off.

There was nothing traditional about the way the Bulls slaughtered the Sharks in Durban. It was revolutionary stuff from the boys in blue.

For a team that had to win to remain a challenger in this year’s Currie Cup the Bulls were expected to revert to type and to play a game based on forward domination and percentages. They were expected to just kick for field position and to grind out a win. Instead they scored six tries, amassed 50 points and left Durban reborn in their approach to the game.

At least I hope they left reborn because it would be a shame if the Bulls now played the percentages and opted for conservatism in the last two league matches against Griquas and the Cheetahs.

The most impressive aspect about the Bulls performance in Durban was the maturity in decision-making, especially from the captain Gary Botha. There was so much common sense to the way he controlled the game. He read the situation when opting to kick to the corner and go for the try. He certainly was not predictable and he varied kicking to posts and kicking to the corner based on a belief in what his team could do at that moment and not because the game plan said you kick to the corner when 30 metres out and you kick for posts from any longer distance.

He showed calmness when the game needed to be slowed down and the other playmakers in the team, like scrumhalf Heinie Adams, showed urgency when there was a hint of opportunity to attack.

Leadership is an issue within the current national group, but Botha excelled with the additional responsibility in Durban. The Bulls scored some fantastic tries, from their own making and on the counter attack. But again it was the decision-making of individuals that separated this Bulls performance from others they’ve produced in the competition.

In previous games the Bulls have played to such a pre-meditated game plan that the players have appeared robotic. The decision-making at times this season has been awful and the worst was probably in the defeat against Western Province when the Bulls butchered three or four seemingly certain tries.

Adams, enjoying his finest match for the Bulls, was deliberate in scanning for the box kick which resulted in 10 points. The first, just after halftime showed outstanding vision and definitive decision-making. As he approached the ruck he was scanning and he made a decisive call to expose the lack of structure among the Sharks back three. Two minutes later he did the same thing.

Earlier in the first half Hilton Lobberts also showed wonderful vision and decision-making when scoring his try. He could have passed the ball or just put his head down and gone, but he clearly stopped momentarily, scanned and made the decision to beat a defence that was convinced the ball was going wide.

Wynand Olivier’s change of plan because he summarized the situation and saw the vulnerability on Waylon Murray’s inside shoulder was another fantastic bit of creative play. He beat the man and then most importantly took the right decision when offloading out wide to Akona Ndungane.

Not every decision was the right one. One awful mix-up from a structured move led to a Sharks breakaway try and one Johan Roets up and under was poorly placed and the counter attacking of the Sharks hurt the Bulls on that occasion.

But the good calls were far greater than the bad ones and that was wonderful to see in a South African domestic game of this importance. So often our games are characterized by brutality in contact, but very little sensible decision-making.

This decision-making and willingness of players to think and change tact based on the on-field situation was the good news story I took from the weekend’s premier match.

It is what all our players should be striving for in the next four weekends. If our brutes can transform themselves into thinking brutes, they’ll add a dimension to South African rugby.

Last weekend showed me we have players with the capability to think, but it is something that has to be done with regularity every weekend. It shouldn’t be an event, as it was in Durban.