The Bulls asked for backline coach Pieter Rossouw to be given time before he was judged. Seven matches into the tournament and we’re still waiting for his impact.
The circumstances under which Rossouw was recruited were hardly ideal – two weeks to go to the start of the tournament gave him absolutely no time to settle, get to know the players and share his philosophies on how he feels the game should be played. Add to that that he was under-qualified for a Super 14 role, having just coached the Western Province U19s, and it didn’t take an expert to predict that failure was the most likely outcome.
There were certainly better qualified candidates suggested to the Bulls, including Ricardo Loubscher, who at that stage had spent a season under the tutelage of Australian backline coach Todd Louden (now with the Waratahs). Yet the Bulls appointed Rossouw, and asked for him to be given time to settle before he was judged. Seven matches later that time has come.
In 560 minutes the Bulls have scored 11 tries. That’s an average of a try every 50 minutes or 1.5 per game if you like. This is the same backline who ran in 45 tries in 13 matches last year, barring Zane Kirchner who replaced Johan Roets. The Crusaders, who they beat in the semi-final in 2007, have 33 tries to date. That’s an average of 4.7 tries per game or one every 17 minutes. Someone is choking on someone’s dust here, but I’ll let you decide who.
The Bulls have the second lowest try count in the competition and even trail six behind the Cheetahs – who haven’t won a match in the tournament. To match their try scoring feats of 2007 the Bulls have to score 34 tries in their next six games. Given their current impotency, it would take a stupid man to wage a bet that they will.
So will it be seen as regression if they don’t match or surpass their feats of 2007 – probably not. The nature of sport is that teams very rarely have two spectacular seasons consecutively. In this case the opposition have probably worked out better defensive strategies to counter the Bulls.
However, at the same token the world’s best teams evolve their strategies regularly to ensure sustained success, and this is where Rossouw has fallen sort. The Bulls backs have stagnated, and now look every bit the unit who were billed as one-dimensional in the early 2000s.
Rossouw of course can’t be entirely to blame in a game where the back division’s potency depends largely on the quality of the attacking platform laid by the forwards, in which case Pote Human deserves his fair share of criticism as well.
However, he needs to take responsibility for the fact that the same players have fallen back so badly. Derick Hougaard and The Pocket have reignited their love affair, Wynand Olivier has been about as exciting as a Griffons/Pumas game and JP Nel is more likely to break someone’s neck before he breaks the defensive line.
The Bulls maintain that they can still make the play-offs. Let us entertain that laughable belief for a second, despite their two from seven record. If they are to make the play-offs their backline play has to show a dramatic improvement. It did to a degree on Saturday against the Blues, were they reverted to a percentage game and the forwards delivered their best performance of the season.
They’ll want to build on that performance against the Force on Friday and find their stride because a backline that boasts five Springboks should never be as atrocious as they have been.
By Ryan Vrede