The Vodacom Bulls need to produce an attacking performance of substance before they embark on a challenging four-match tour of Australasia, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Pretoria is buzzing following confirmation that Duane Vermeulen will rejoin the Bulls at the back end of the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament. There’s a chance that Jesse Kriel and Marcel Coetzee will also link up with the side once their overseas commitments have been fulfilled.
Springbok coaching duo Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will welcome the return of the trio to South Africa. The Japan-based Vermeulen and Kriel would certainly benefit from a physical hit-out or two before they report for Springbok duty in July.
Whether Vermeulen and company can boost the Bulls in their quest to qualify for the Super Rugby knockouts is another story. By the time they return, the Bulls may be well out of the playoff race.
The Bulls find themselves in a hole at present. They’ve lost all four of their matches and have managed to register only a single log point.
They will host the Highlanders in Pretoria this Saturday. Thereafter, they will travel to Australasia to face the Reds, Waratahs, Hurricanes and Chiefs.
They have to show more intent against the Highlanders. They have to build up some momentum before they head Down Under.
More experienced Bulls teams have struggled overseas in recent years. One shudders to think how the current side will fare if they head on tour without a shred of confidence.
The Bulls lost a host of experienced players at the end of 2019. They were the best South African side on show last season, and were competitive in the quarter-final clash with the Hurricanes in Wellington.
That said, the class of 2019 certainly had its problems on attack. The defence blew hot and cold and the overall results reflected the group’s battle for consistency.
The 2020 stats paint a bleak picture. The Bulls have played four games over the past five rounds. On average, however, they have been the worst-performing team across most attacking categories.
The Bulls forwards have failed to fire at the set pieces and provide the necessary go-forward at the collisions. The Bulls are ranked 13th in the tournament for lineout success (82%) and 11th for advantage-line success on attack (56%).
No team in the 15-side tournament has averaged fewer points (15), tries (1.3), run metres (447) and tackle busts. They’re ranked 10th for linebreaks (five per game) and 11th for offloads (five).
As was the case last year, the attack has been further compromised by the players’ tendency to lose the ball in contact. The Bulls rank fourth for handling errors (10.3) – a telling stat considering they are not creating a great deal of attacking opportunities.
Their defence started the season well. Even now, after the heavy loss to the Jaguares, the overall defence stats might suggest they are doing something right.
That performance against the Jaguares suggested that they are indeed vulnerable, though. The Bulls missed 30 tackles and conceded a whopping 16 penalties overall. Warrick Gelant and Johnny Kotze missed five tackles each.
The Bulls have to find a solution to their attacking problems – and fast. They have to beat the Highlanders well this Saturday and travel to Australasia with a positive frame of mind.
They also need to get stuck into the Highlanders on defence. Marco van Staden made an impact against the Jaguares last week, and the rest of the Bulls forwards would do well to follow the Bok flank’s physical example.
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