Frans Ludeke says ill-discipline has the potential to seriously undermine the Bulls’ campaign.
It was a key talking point in the Bulls’ preparation: Stay disciplined and don’t give the Stormers opportunities to kick goals. The Bulls privately believed they would win if they achieved that task, given the Stormers’ chronic struggle to score tries.
Yet 15 of the Stormers’ 20 points, including the decisive three that separated the sides, came from penalties. Frustratingly for Ludeke, the majority of penalties were committed without any notable pressure being applied. A similar trend was outstanding in their only other defeat – to the Blues – where 15 of the Auckland franchise’s 29 points came from penalties.
The Bulls’ championship-winning sides of 2007, 2009 and 2010 were among the most disciplined in the tournament, seldom allowing their opponents shots at goal. It was undoubtedly the bedrock upon which their success was built.
In contrast, the current Bulls side have the highest penalty count of all the teams in the tournament. Worryingly the majority of their infringements are committed in very kickable positions. And while breakdown penalties are understandably prominent, their indiscretions extend to their lineouts and scrums, which have traditionally been areas of strength. With regards to the latter, props Werner Kruger and Dean Greyling are among the tournament’s most penalised players.
Ludeke deeply lamented the poor showing in this area of his side’s game. ‘In a match of small margins, like the one at Newlands, you must be more disciplined than the other team or you end up on the wrong side of the result more often than not. Our discipline really let us down,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za.
‘The last few weeks discipline has been a focus area for us. But we weren’t accurate on the evening and in a Test-like match you can’t lose your discipline in the heat of battle.’
There is a sense from Bulls supporters that referee Craig Joubert was particularly harsh on their team but Ludeke dismissed that suggestion. ‘It is our responsibility to adapt to the referee on the day. We can’t look for excuses like that.’
He did, however, add that he was optimistic they could remedy their problems. ‘It is not something that will require big, brave decisions. Not at all. The players have to make better decisions, particularly under pressure. That has been a hallmark of the best Bulls sides and we have a standard that we haven’t hit yet,’ he said.
The Crusaders will be a stern test of the Bulls’ discipline this weekend. Organised, tactically intelligent, equipped with competent goal-kickers and with the player resources to match the Bulls physically, Todd Blackadder’s men could well replicate the Stormers’ blueprint in pressurising their hosts into conceding a string of penalties. Exponential improvements need to be made before Saturday’s match if the Bulls hope to get their campaign back on track.
Meanwhile in injury news Deoon Stegmann is still nursing a hamstring injury and is unlikely to be fit for selection. Hooker Willie Wepener is also on the mend and a call will be made on both later this week.
By Ryan Vrede