Pierre Spies predicts the Chiefs will replicate the Highlanders’ expansive attack but warned that the Hamilton franchise is better equipped to penetrate the wide channels.
The Highlanders’ method was predictable in so much as the statistics leading into the contest reflected them as kicking the least in the tournament and having the most players in the top 20 for ball carries.
The Bulls’ defence held firm and they conceded just one try. However, the Highlanders often stretched them and at times they looked decidedly vulnerable. Good scramble defence snuffed out potential scoring opportunities, but Spies warned of the Chiefs’ superior quality and greater clinical edge when compared to the Highlanders.
‘We were pleased with our defensive effort in Dunedin, but the Chiefs are a better attacking side than the Highlanders and better equipped to hurt us with their expansive approach,’ Spies told keo.co.za. ‘They pose so many threats and those are not only in the backline. [Prop] Sona Taumalolo is a very effective ball-carrier [he is among the leading players in the tournament for linebreaks] and while they don’t carry the ball nearly as much as the Highlanders, when they do they are so effective.’
Spies’ latter offering is supported by four of the Chiefs’ players being in the top 10 for linebreaks, while only one of those – Sonny Bill Williams – has carried for a notable number of times (92). Williams will again be central to the Chiefs’ ability to generate attacking momentum, his physicality at the gainline and ability to commit multiple defenders (and offload if not gang tackled) priceless in an environment where defences of elite teams are so good.
Head coach Frans Ludeke has bad memories of Williams, who was instrumental in the Crusaders’ 27-0 victory over his side in Timaru last year. Williams tormented the 10-12 axis of Morné Steyn and Wynand Olivier – his opponents this Friday once more – and caused havoc when mismatches were engineered for him. No Chiefs player has carried more or for more metres (839m), suggesting that the Bulls will see plenty of the midfielder in Hamilton.
‘He is a high quality player and we will have to do a better job on him than we did last year,’ Ludeke said. ‘But if we cut down his time and space we put ourselves in a stronger position defensively. That starts with dominating the gainline. But Sonny Bill isn’t occupying all our thoughts. They are blessed with a number of great attackers.’
Ludeke added that the Bulls would have to improve their composure and decision-making in their attacking play. They crafted a number of good scoring opportunities against the Highlanders but often lost patience and concentration at critical times in their build-up, which saw them make fundamental handling errors or become isolated and vulnerable to turnovers.
‘We couldn’t convert opportunities into points in the way we should have and that must change against the Chiefs. They give you so little on defence (they have conceded just 17 tries in 11 matches – second best record in the tournament) that if you are wasteful when you do have a sniff at the line it will be very costly.’
By Ryan Vrede