Defensive deficiencies focus for Bulls
8 May 2012
RYAN VREDE writes the Bulls’ defensive struggles are acute not chronic, but they will have to arrest a slide into mediocrity in this facet of play if they are to maintain their charge for a home play-off place.
In their pomp the Bulls were a formidable defensive force, and while they remain one of Super Rugby’s better defensive units their standards have undoubtedly declined in the past two seasons.
In the Bulls’ last two matches the Brumbies and Rebels both earned four-try bonus points in defeat, the latter being a particularly disappointing showing given the ease with which a vastly inferior opponent crossed their tryline. To date they have conceded 21 tries in nine matches, the most of the teams in a play-off position.
The Rebels were allowed to control the flow and tempo of their attacks with relative ease given the Bulls’ largely impotent gainline challenge. This must improve in the coming weeks where they’ll be pitted against better sides, including current leaders, the Chiefs.
There is no crisis as yet but statistics tell a tale of mediocrity that needs to be remedied urgently. The Bulls have missed an average of 15 tackles per match, which is the 12th highest in the tournament. Crucially, however, the majority of their misses have come high up the field (i.e between the opposition’s 22m and halfway).
Teams playing the Bulls are averaging 2.3 clean line breaks (ninth highest in the comp), which is in line with the tournament average of 2.4. Ominously the Waratahs, whom the Bulls face in Sydney on Friday, are among the tournament’s leaders in linebreaks and are tops for linebreaks in the opposition’s 22m. Furthermore, teams playing the Bulls are averaging 4.6 offloads a game, which is second lowest in the competition (average is 5.8 per game).
‘We can’t be satisfied with our defensive performances,’ coach Frans Ludeke told keo.co.za. ‘The root of the problem is our tackle fight but we have addressed those issues and even in the second half against the Rebels there was a marked improvement. That needs to be the standard we carry through for the remainder of the tournament.’
The Bulls will also have concerns about their discipline and how that undermines their cause. Only one team have conceded more penalties on average per match than they have and, worryingly, they have conceded many of those while in possession. No team has been pinned more at the set phases, a trend that would surely not go unnoticed by their future opponents.
Impressive attacking play has ensured that the impact of this ill-discipline and their defensive struggles hasn’t been terminal. No team in a play-off spot has scored more tries (33) and they are sure to expose any vulnerabilities in the Waratahs’ defensive structure.
‘Only the Crusaders have scored four tries against them so that speaks volumes about their strength on defence,’ Ludeke said. ‘It may be a case of building our innings through penalties then taking the few chances that will come our way. We’ve been very good at the gainline on attack in the last few games and that has set us up and we’ve also been clinical in broken field situations. This is a new game, however, and we’ll have to be as good to beat the Waratahs.’
Statistics supplied by ruckingoodstats.com