RYAN VREDE writes that the Crusaders will be the measure of the Bulls’ progress after an ordinary start.
I don’t expect the Bulls to win, they rarely do away to the Crusaders, and certainly the current vintage from Christchurch is an excellent one that looks likely to secure the franchise’s eighth Super Rugby title. The Bulls, conversely, are in decline. Despite successive wins, they have offered little counter to that assertion.
You don’t measure yourself against the Lions and Hurricanes if you are the Bulls. The former are impostors of a Super Rugby team, while the latter have been dreadfully poor this season.
But they have to show progress against an elite side. It’s in their rebuttal to key questions – how they counter the Crusaders’ scrum, how they unlock their organsied and physical defence, how front up in the forwards – that their ambition will be judged as realistic or optimistic.
Undoubtedly the most pressing question will be how they repel Sonny Bill Williams. The Crusaders have relied so heavily on his ability to commit defenders and offload to support runners. It doesn’t take a master technical analyst to work that out, but it’ll take an astute one to develop an effective counter. Even then he will be at the mercy of the men who execute that plan. None have succeeded in derailing the Sonny Bill Express. The Bulls as defending champions must roll out the blueprint.
Collision dominance hasn’t been the their strong point. Their gain line challenge has been unconvincing at best, and while they improved in that facet of play in Napier at the weekend, the Saders, with Williams a central figure, pose an exponentially bigger challenge.
It is often foolish to place such an intense emphasis on one player, but Williams is an extraordinary talent and warrants special attention. I’m thoroughly convinced that blunting his threat will significantly dilute the potency of their outside backs.
The Saders have never been forced to contemplate a change of tactics in their campaign to date; such has been the consistency with which Williams has serviced the flyers on his outside. An upset victory rests on the Bulls’ ability to make them veer from the script.