Bulls brace for gainline blitz
16 May 2012
Frans Ludeke says the nature of the Highlanders’ approach makes dominating the gainline more critical than in most matches.
Statistics show the Highlanders to be among the teams who’ve kicked the least in the tournament. The Dunedin-based franchise have a string of players among the tournament’s top ball carriers and metres made while carrying, the most prominent of those being loose forwards Nasi Manu and Adam Thomson, who, when allowed to boss the tackle fight, have been constant sources of go-forward.
That momentum has seen the likes of Rico Gear – their primary strike runner in the back division – Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith thrive and pose threats to the opposition. The Bulls have had their share of defensive problems recently and although they improved markedly against the Waratahs last week, the Highlanders are capable of asking defensive questions the Tahs didn’t have the capacity to.
Ludeke pointed to their gainline challenge as being central to them stopping the Highlanders from building an attacking platform. ‘They’ve placed huge emphasis on ball retention through numerous phases and have been able to do that because their carriers very seldom don’t get over the gainline,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za.
‘Dominating this battle is one of the pillars of the game but it takes on added importance against a side who base their success on it. We made good progress against the Waratahs on defence but the Highlanders are a different unit with different strengths. We can’t allow them linebreaks, even half breaks, because they’ve been very clinical in their finishing.’
Ludeke also highlighted the importance of continuing in the accurate execution of their kick-chase method. ‘We know that when we get it right – that is the kick, a pressure chase and accurate hit or good kick return – it can be very difficult to counter. But it only takes a couple of misplaced kicks to put us under pressure from a broken field situation. With defences as tight as they are with the elite teams you have to work hard for tries. Giving teams like the Highlanders broken field opportunities is like a gift. They’ll hurt you.’
The Bulls’ attack has impressed to date. They lead the tournament in tries scored, most of those coming after they’ve driven down into opposition territory and pressured them into errors after which they’ve finished well. They have, however, also been adept at scoring from turnover and broken field situations. Bulls captain Pierre Spies praised their progress in this regard, but warned they would have to be equally as potent in the tackle fight on attack as they hope to be on defence.
‘They flood the breakdown making it difficult for you to get a quick recycle. That’s been at the heart of their defensive strength (the Highlanders have the third best defensive record in the tournament). If you get over the advantage line it’s difficult for them to do that, so that is a must-win area of the game for us.’
By Ryan Vrede