Rekindling gainline belligerence key

RYAN VREDE writes that the Reds have the capacity to ensure the Bulls’ poor campaign plummets to a new low.

I wrote last week that Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper has become a more complete player. However, while this is true, on the evidence of their season to date, and specifically their performance against the Stormers, it appears that the team as a whole has evolved. They are now equally adept at winning with sparkle as they are at grinding out victories on the back of a relatively pragmatic approach.

Nowhere was the latter more in evidence than at Newlands, where their 19-6 upset was built on the back of a punishing defence not readily associated with the Brisbane franchise. Certainly their impressive variation in attacking play – which saw Cooper and scrumhalf Will Genia probe for field position regularly and largely accurately – and a greater focus on the set pieces than has been the case in recent years, contributed to their success. However, it is their solidity in the collisions that will most trouble the Bulls. I have no doubt that a replication of that performance on Saturday will see them plunge the beleaguered Bulls further into despair.

A large part of their struggles has been their inability to retain possession for long enough to ask telling questions of the opposition. Against the Crusaders senior Springboks consistently lost the ball in contact at crucial times. Furthermore the accuracy of their up-and-unders was poor and kick-chase lethargic, and thus turned out to be no more than a simple way of surrendering possession. This must change.

Previously the Bulls would have identified the Reds as being vulnerable at the tackle point and built their attacking game plan around punishing phase play. That is no longer the case, which doesn’t bode well for the Pretoria franchise given that they have yet to exhibit the variation in play that made them formidable opponents for the past two seasons.

Reds Coach Ewen McKenzie has recognised the need to add whack to their wow factor, and the time he has invested in ensuring his charges aren’t a soft touch is reflected in their appreciable strength in this facet of play. It has made their defensive task easier, allowing for increased opportunities to effect breakdown turnovers, or to slow the recycle, the latter enabling the defensive line to set before the next phase is launched.

Bulls captain Victor Matfield promised their supporters an exponential improvement at the Suncorp Stadium. It is a bold move and delivery will hinge on his primary strike runners achieving a level of dominance at the gainline that they have not come close to all season. Pierre Spies in particular needs a performance that will remind us of his value, while Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha need to provide a counter-argument to the growing view that they are a spent force.

It is perplexing that even in a team with a different complexion as a result of the Bulls’ rotational policy (their term) there is no room for Danie Rossouw. He is the one player who has looked capable of consistently bossing the tackle fight and providing the momentum needed on attack.

The Bulls can only persist so long with players whose reputations are sustaining them. They need those men to deliver and do so consistently.

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