The Bulls have been criticised for adopting a fairly conservative approach to date but diversion from that approach will cost them against the Chiefs at Loftus.
This is an assertion of fact based on the evidence from preceding matches.
The Chiefs have built a reputation as one of the tournament’s great entertainers – a reputation reinforced and sustained by the fact that they are second only to the Blues in terms of tries scored in the current campaign.
They are particularly dangerous from broken field and turnover ball, but have struggled against sides who remain structured and direct for 80 minutes.
The Crusaders, Waratahs and Sharks ensured the Chiefs’ season got off to the worst possible start by refusing to pander to their strengths, relying instead on a formula that emphasised set phase and collision point dominance and an accurate tactical kicking game.
The Force, Blues, Reds, Lions and to a lesser extent the Cheetahs, seemed to have butchered their analyses of the Chiefs and consequently conceded 27 tries between them.
They attempted to counter fire with fire, when dousing the flames required a healthy disregard for the expansive. The Bulls cannot make the same errors.
When they are purring they are able to subdue even the most prolific attacking units. This was evident against the Hurricanes in Wellington where they battered the Canes in contact and forced them to launch attacks from deep inside their own territory by kicking in behind their back three, and chased in unison to form a defensive wall the Canes found difficult to penetrate.
Conversely, when they’ve got it wrong, as they did against the Highlanders in Dunedin, they’ve looked decidedly ordinary.
The halfback pairing of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn will be central to their success. Du Preez’s kicking has been consistently good throughout the campaign while Steyn’s has drifted between the sublime and ordinary. The pivot will need to be on point if he is to ensure the Bulls are the team exerting the pressure, not the ones absorbing it.
The Chiefs will, however, be without their primary strike weapons, wingers Lelia Masaga and Sitiveni Sivivatu. The duo had been superb prior to sustaining injuries and coach Ian Foster hasn’t attempted to plaster over the impact of their loss.
But they showed last week that in Sevens star Tim Mikkelson and Dwayne Sweeney they have two competent replacements. There is no need to elaborate the threat posed by Mils Muliaina, who completes the back three.
After an Australasian tour that yielded just two wins, the Bulls will be forgiven for a performance devoid of the elements that get us out of our seats. Some will call it ugly, they will call it smart. And smart in victory trumps entertaining in defeat any day.
By Ryan Vrede