Zane Kirchner’s suspension has robbed the Bulls of one of their most potent attacking weapons.
To start raving about the performance of the Bulls, and their backline is particular, after a victory over a distinctly average Lions side would be premature. But with their Springboks restored to the starting line-up they did prove that they will be competitive in this campaign.
Their backline, under the tutelage of Pieter Rossouw, has been heavily criticised in recent weeks for their inability to craft scoring opportunities or convert the few they did. But against the Lions they showed innovation and creativity that had been sorely lacking in the first three rounds.
The balance looked good, with Bryan Habana, Akona Ndungane and Kirchner providing the heavy fire, Morne Steyn’s superb distribution skills and penchant for attacking space complimenting Wynand Olivier’s direct style well, while the old firm halfback combination of Fourie du Preez and Derick Hougaard operated efficiently.
But Kirchner, who has proved to be an excellent signing for the Bulls, will watch the Reds and Chiefs games from the comfort of his lounge couch after a reckless spear tackle on Dusty Noble earned him an unwelcome two week break – forcing the Bulls into a backline overhaul.
Hot-headed centre JP Nel is available for selection after serving a one week suspension for the same offence, and is likely to be rushed back for the Reds in Brisbane this weekend. Had Kirchner been available Nel should have been made to play off the wood, given the promise that the backs showed.
This will force Morne Steyn to fullback, a position he has played before for the Bulls, but one that certainly doesn’t maximise his strengths. The Bulls simply have no other option outside of the recently recruited Tiger Mangweni, who hasn’t played any Super Rugby this season but who also hasn’t been included in their tour party.
Continuity in selection, coaches will tell you, is key to success. And while Nel has been part of successful Bulls’ sides in the last three seasons it has become clear that his bash em’ up approach doesn’t serve the Bulls’ cause to play with a creative flair, while his persistent ill-discipline has made him a liability in tight games.
The Bulls, with a new look midfield and 10-12 axis, looked considerably more dangerous than they have throughout the tournament. Steyn adds a tactical kicking threat to their arsenal, meaning the Bulls could look to any one of Du Preez, Hougaard or Steyn to gain them field position – which will be central to their game plan on tour.
Kirchner loss could be a defining moment in the Bulls’ campaign. The fullback’s attacking inclination, rock solid defence and rocket powered boot has made him invaluable and only Bryan Habana possesses a greater game-breaking ability.
After getting some momentum Rossouw now starts from scratch once more. He will have his work cut out trying to ignite this backline into anything resembling a unit who could pose a four-try threat to opposition over the next month.
By Ryan Vrede