JON CARDINELLI looks at the defensive frailties of the Vodacom Bulls and Sharks ahead of the crucial derby in Durban this Saturday.
Sometimes you have to take your hat off to the attacking side for its endeavour and execution. The Chiefs deserve some credit for a powerful and precise showing that yielded seven tries and 56 points at Loftus Versfeld last Saturday.
The Bulls played their part in that scoreline, though. As coach Pote Human said, the hosts failed to turn up and the margin of defeat amounted to a humiliation.
A closer analysis shows how the Bulls wanted for attitude, accuracy and sharp decision-making in the department of defence.
The Sharks were too strong for the Rebels in Durban on Saturday. And yet they, too, were exposed on several occasions when their communication and defensive shape faltered.
Over in Wellington, the Stormers lost the battle at the gainline. They went into that game against the Hurricanes as one of the top-ranked defensive units as far as tackle success rate was concerned. On the day, however, the Stormers missed crucial one-on-one tackles, especially in the wider channels.
Needless to say, the South African sides have to find their defensive mojo sooner rather than later if they are going to challenge the top teams in the tournament and push for a spot in the playoffs.
BULLS vs CHIEFS
Why did the Bulls lose to the Chiefs? The stats provide an insight, yet no definitive answer.
The Bulls finished the game with a tackle success rate of 89%. The Chiefs only made 8m more (396) than the Bulls did over the course of the 80 minutes.
There’s no stats column for attitude and decision-making, though. The Bulls gave away a lot of metres at the gainline. They did not fight hard enough at the rucks to slow the recycle of the Chiefs possession, and paid a dear price.
Despite enjoying a bye in round five, the Bulls looked off the pace in round six.
There were times when they attempted to put the Chiefs under pressure with their defensive linespeed. The lack of communication and alignment, however, played into the visitors’ hands, as seen in the clip below.
Schalk Brits, at the top of the screen, rushes to shut down the wide option. The Chiefs – who were on top at the gainline for most of the game – remain patient. They resist the temptation to run at that staggered defence – seen inside Brits – until the next phase.
The Bulls tight forwards get caught in a situation where they are defending against the Chiefs backs. They move across the field and lose their connection with Brits. In the end, Marty McKenzie makes the linebreak look easy.
The Chiefs (73) have made 20 more offloads than the next best side (the Crusaders) in this department. They made 15 in the game at Loftus. The Bulls made three.
The Bulls went into this game with the intent to stifle the Chiefs’ momentum and shut down the offload option. The hosts attempted to rush the Chiefs on several occasions on Saturday. More often than not, they got it wrong, conceding linebreaks or penalties.
The Chiefs forwards failed to fire in previous matches, and thus the majority of those offloads were made behind the gainline. They lost their first four games and drew their fifth encounter with the Hurricanes.
On Saturday, however, the Chiefs bossed the collisions and had the opportunity to offload on the front foot. They made further inroads into the Bulls defence.
They were helped, though, by the Bulls’ lack of aggression in this area. The hosts were slow to get back to their feet after every ruck, and did not chase hard enough after conceding a linebreak.
The Bulls defence was at its worst in the lead-up to the try below. They failed to win the initial contact, failed to slow the ball down at the ensuing breakdown, failed to rush forward as a line, and then failed to chase back and stop the final pass.
Notice the Bulls players jogging back into position below. It’s hard to believe this is the same Bulls side that outworked the Stormers, Lions and Sharks in earlier rounds. Good decision-making was also a hallmark of the Bulls play before the bye.
SHARKS vs REBELS
The Sharks have mixed the magic with the mediocre. Last week’s game against the Rebels was a case in point.
While they produced some powerful plays from the set piece and finished well in the wider channels, they were exposed on several occasions on defence.
In the clip below, the Rebels win the ball at the tail of the lineout and then move it wide to Tom English to score.
Again, we should applaud the execution – Quade Cooper’s long spiral pass was a beaut – but also recognise the mistakes that were made by the defence.
Somehow, flyhalf Rob du Preez and first centre André Esterhuizen end up marking the same man. Du Preez, Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am all converge on scrumhalf Michael Ruru and leave Cooper free to make the big play.
Sbu Nkosi has been hung out to dry on numerous occasions this season due to poor communication and alignment on the inside. Here we see him moving back to the left, and his movement pulls fullback Aphelele Fassi in the same direction.
In the end, English scores with space to spare. One needs to remember that this attack was from the set piece. The Sharks should not have been beaten on the outside.
There were times in the recent match at Kings Park where the Sharks didn’t adjust to the situation. In the clip below, they were under pressure and were even given a further chance to organise the defence after the Rebels made a mistake and the ball rolled back well behind the gainline.
The flanks decide to rush forward, though, and Billy Meakes surges through the gap on the inside. From there, the Rebels offload smartly to keep the ball alive.
The Sharks have a number of defenders on hand, but there’s no semblance of a line. Cooper finds Jack Maddocks with a great short ball, and the fullback dances around Fassi to score.
HURRICANES vs STORMERS
Wes Goosen scored two tries against the Stormers in Wellington on Saturday. SP Marais allowed Goosen far too much room down the touchline in the lead-up to the right wing’s first try.
In the lead-up to Goosen’s second – as seen below – the Hurricanes player beats his opposite number with a show of strength.
The Stormers have been breached all too easily in the wider channels this season. They may be hard pressed to keep the likes of Rieko Ioane honest when they face the Blues on Saturday.
SHARKS vs BULLS: THE REMATCH
Will we see an improved defensive showing by the Bulls and Sharks in Durban this weekend? Both teams will have much to prove in this department.
The Bulls leaked seven tries and 56 points in round six. They should be up for the next clash against the Sharks.
The Sharks, of course, were outplayed by the Bulls in the round four clash in Pretoria. On that occasion, the Bulls won the collisions and found a lot of holes in the defence.
As seen in the clip below, the Bulls decision-makers were good enough to exploit the space on that occasion. The Sharks defence got a lot wrong in that fixture.
Both teams have the potential to dominate the forward exchanges and set the platform for an effective attacking performance.
However, the defensive display – specifically the aggression shown at the gainline and the decision-making in the wider channels – should determine which side walks away with the win at Kings Park.
Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix