The Vodacom Bulls must neutralise the David Pocock threat if they are to stand any chance of beating the Brumbies in Canberra this Friday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Bulls have lost two consecutive games on the road. In those matches against the Blues and Chiefs, the Bulls were physically outplayed, especially at the breakdowns.
This doesn't bode well for the Bulls' next match against the Brumbies in Canberra. The Bulls have lost their last two matches in the Australian capital, and seven of the eight games at this stadium over the past 20 years. And it won't get any easier for the Bulls as far as the breakdown challenge is concerned. The Brumbies possess one of the world's finest fetchers in Pocock.
Coach Frans Ludeke has made a number of changes in the wake of the defeat to the Chiefs. Ludeke's biggest call is to rest veteran lock Victor Matfield. Given the importance of this game in the context of the Bulls' campaign, and the threat the Brumbies will pose at the lineout, Ludeke may have done better to rest Matfield next week.
The Brumbies will have the edge at this set piece, and it wouldn't surprise to see them mauling against the Bulls. In a previous match against the Highlanders, the Brumbies scored three tries via the rolling maul. And on each occasion, it was Pocock who controlled the ball at the back of the maul, and then dotted it beyond the tryline.
But the Bulls will have to keep an eye on Pocock for another reason. The Brumbies have one of the best defences in the tournament, and Pocock has played a big role in that success. The Wallabies flanker will aim to spoil and stifle when the Bulls are on the attack. If Pocock can snatch a turnover, the Brumbies certainly have the broken-field runners to punish a fractured Bulls defence.
The Bulls have struggled to impose themselves on attack these past two weeks. With Matfield resting, and Springbok centre Jan Serfontein ruled out with injury, we shouldn't expect an improvement in Canberra.
Ludeke has also opted for Arno Botha at blindside flank ahead of Jacques du Plessis. Botha as well as starting openside Deon Stegmann will have to play out of their skins for the Bulls to win the breakdown battle and get within sight of an upset.
Handré Pollard will also need to turn in a more accurate showing, especially in front of goal. The Bok flyhalf boasts a good overall success rate in 2015, but will want to improve on the erratic performance in Rotorua last week.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 11, Bulls 8
In Canberra: Brumbies 7, Bulls 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The last six games between these sides have seen an average aggregate of 62 points scored.
– The Bulls have only won once in eight away trips to play the Brumbies (2007).
– Only the Bulls (5.5) have averaged fewer offloads per game than the Brumbies (6.3) in this campaign.
– The Brumbies have conceded fewer clean breaks (5.3) and metres (350) per game than any other side this season.
– The Brumbies have scored a competition-high 21 tries when beginning possession in their opponents’ 22, and have also conceded a low of six when their opponents start possession in the Brumbies’ 22.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Brumbies||Christian Lealiifano (126)||Joe Tomane (5)||Joe Tomane (564)||Christian Lealiifano (104)|
|Bulls||Handré Pollard (156)||Francois Hougaard (5)||Jesse Kriel (1037)||Jacques du Plessis (137)|
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nigel Ah Wong, 23 James Dargaville.
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Lappies Labuschagne, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Travis Ismaiel, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Photo: Stefan Postles/Getty Images