The Bulls have to make significant improvements on defence if they are to sustain their title charge.
Their defensive failings have been largely overlooked because of their attacking prowess (they are the tournament’s leading try-scorers with 24).
However, their defensive line has looked porous at times from structured play while fundamental errors and lapses of concentration in defending broken field attacks have been prevalent in their four matches. This has seen them concede an average of 3.75 tries per match – a woeful record for a team who have consistently been among the tournament’s best defensive units over the last four years.
The Brumbies, Waratahs and Highlanders threatened to exploit this newly developed vulnerability, but faded under attacking pressure from the Bulls. More experienced units, particularly on their home track, without the legion of blue-clad disciples screaming support for their demi-gods, and with the lung-busting altitude being a non-factor, would have sustained that pressure and possibly emerged with a victory.
The Bulls have seemingly mastered the art and science of attacking play under the new breakdown law interpretations but are nowhere near as efficient from a defensive perspective. This needs to be remedied as a priority, before an acute problem becomes a chronic one.
Significant progression needs to be made in a week and there are few sterner tests of a team’s capacity to resist than the Hurricanes. The Wellington boys have admittedly fallen short of the standards they’ve set for themselves on attack, particularly in the Republic, but their opposition’s contribution to their relative impotency must not be overlooked.
It is in the careful analysis of those matches, the Stormers’ performance being the prime example, that the blueprint for an improved defensive showing is found.
The Stormers bossed the tackle point in their 37-13 defeat of the Canes at Newlands on Saturday, and subsequently gave themselves a better opportunity at contesting the ball on the deck. The Canes were seldom able to recycle the ball quickly, and this gave the Stormers’ defensive line opportunities to reshape.
All teams rely heavily on the momentum gained from a speedy recycle to break down their opposition, but where the elite ones are able to adapt to a more pragmatic approach, the Canes tend to be fairly inflexible tactically. Cut their supply and their potency is severely diminished.
The Bulls rarely allow open wounds to fester, their 2008 title defence being an exception, and one can rest assured that there’ll be an intense focus on that facet of play ahead of the Canes litmus test on Friday.
Sound defence has been the cornerstone of every successful rugby team, and if the Bulls are to reaffirm their credentials in that regard, it begins with passing the aforementioned test emphatically.
By Ryan Vrede