Topping the ruck tussle

Bulls attack coach Pieter Rossouw says they will have to be clinical at the breakdown if they hope to breach the tournament’s best defence.

After hammering the Reds and Blues in the opening rounds, the Bulls have found it increasingly hard to cross the whitewash. However, they’ll need to add to their five tries on tour en route to a win if they hope to stay on course for a play-off spot.

On Saturday the Bulls face the Waratahs, who have conceded just 13 tries in eight matches. The Sydney franchise were superb at killing the Stormers’ attacking flow by dominating the collisions and subsequently the breakdown last week, and the the Bulls are acutely aware that cracking that granitic defensive wall begins with prospering at ruck time.

‘The biggest contributing factor to their excellent defensive record is the way they contest the ball on the ground, and that slows down the opposition ball which gives them time to make sure their defensive lines are always in order. That makes it harder to break the line because most of the time you are on the end of a double hit form the defenders,’ Rossouw told keo.co.za.

‘The important thing is to make sure that we get quick ball and ensure that our cleaning out at the breakdown is executed correctly. Once you get in behind them and over the advantage line that becomes easier.’

The Bulls have crafted a number of scoring opportunities over the last fortnight but have failed to capitalise on the majority of those. That has been the difference between victory and defeat, and if they don’t improve in this regard it could be the difference between a successful tour and a nightmare one.

‘You are not always going to score from every opportunity you create, so the idea is to try create as many opportunities as you can. We are working on making sure that we are a bit more patient on attack because I think sometimes we tend to rush things a bit too much,’ Rossouw said.

‘We made a big step up against the Crusaders from the Highlanders game. It was disappointing not to have come away with the win, but in the end we probably made too many errors which cost us the game.’

The Tahs have hardly prospered in the try scoring stakes either, banking 18 in their eight matches. This has been directly as a result of their rigidly structured approach, and Rossouw predicted they wouldn’t veer from that approach on Saturday, but did acknowledge their unpredictability.

‘I think they are quite a conservative team and their first phase is generally very good and they probably have the strongest scrum in the competition,’ he noted.

‘Their tactical kicking is very good and they try to play as much of the game in the opposition half, but they are not scared to give it a go out wide on a couple of occasions so it is something you have to be alert to.’

The Bulls are likely to name a similar run-on XV to the one that went down in Christchurch, with the only changes expected in the front row where Derick Kuun could start ahead of Chiliboy Ralepelle. There continues to be serious concern around the fitness of fullback Zane Kirchner, who injured a bottock muscle against the Crusaders.

Bryan Habana will fill the void at fullback if Kirchner fails to recover, and Rossouw was confident Habana has the necessary skill set to thrive.

‘He certainly brings another dimension to our play if you just look at the number of counter-attacks he started against the Crusaders,’ he said.

‘I don’t have a problem with his kicking game and neither am I concerned about his ability under the high ball,’ he added when probed on these facets of Habana’s play.

‘Wings get more high balls than fullbacks and it has always been one of his strengths. He was very good again on Saturday [against the Crusaders] under the high ball, so I don’t think his height is a problem at all.’

By Ryan Vrede