Bulls try to banish breakdown blues

Frans Ludeke says much of the Bulls’ fortunes will depend on their ability to remedy their breakdown ill-discipline.

Officiating at the breakdown has come into greater focus in recent years with a number of amendments to the laws governing that facet of play. Trends reflect that officials have progressed from heavily favouring the attacking team to shifting to a more balanced approach.

The Bulls’ defensive success in Super Rugby has rested largely on a strong tackle point and breakdown contest. They struggled in this area last season, conceding more breakdown penalties than any other franchise. Culprit in chief was openside flank Deon Stegmann, who, having been excellent in their 2009 and 2010 campaigns, was decidedly mediocre in 2011. For those reasons it was no surprise that they conceded more points and tries than any of the elite franchises.

Ludeke said this was deeply concerning for them and that much emphasis was placed on addressing their shortcomings.

‘There has been a directive from the IRB to clamp down on stifling play at the breakdown, but I think there will be an even greater balance between continuity and contest this season,’ Ludeke said.

‘Last year was poor for us from a breakdown perspective. We were the most disciplined side in 2009 and 2010 when we won it. To drop from being the best to being the worst is unacceptable. To be in the play-offs you have to excel at the breakdown. Your discipline has to be very, very good, especially against the top sides, who will punish you heavily if it isn’t.’

The Bulls open their campaign against the Sharks on Friday and Ludeke said he is prepared for a forward onslaught that will be a stern test of his stated objectives.

‘They have a dynamic and powerful pack and always look to take us on up front,’ he said. ‘They’ll want to play through many phases but our coaching staff was happy with the way we defended for multiple phases in our warm-up matches. Obviously those matches didn’t replicate match intensity in Super Rugby but structurally we’re pleased with how we’ve done.

‘It’s a South African derby on the opening weekend. I don’t have to tell you that it will be brutally physical. Standing strong at the tackle point will be important if we are going to achieve our goals at the breakdown.’

The Bulls were hard hit by a mass exodus of senior players at the end of 2011 and their cause has been further undermined by injuries to key men Wynand Olivier (hand) and Dewald Potgieter (cut tendons in his arm). There are also a number of fringe players nursing injuries of varying severity. Their depth will be tested but Ludeke proclaimed faith in his young bucks.

‘I have complete confidence in the players who will get their opportunities in the coming weeks. Their mettle will be tested in Super Rugby. Technically I have few concerns and mentally we try to build players of the highest calibre. I believe they’ll tick both boxes.’

By Ryan Vrede

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