DYLAN JACK looks at the top performers in the Vodacom Bulls backline to date.
The Bulls backline has certainly struggled to fire on all cylinders consistently this season. This could be due to the heavy personnel changes that went on in the off-season, with Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel both departing overseas after the World Cup.
Pollard is a player in his prime who, unlike too many other flyhalves in the country has a physicality that allows him to take the ball to the line and make ground, almost like most other teams would utilitse their inside centre.
This could also be due to the Bulls losing some of the structures and systems that John Mitchell started to implement during his short reign as director of rugby.
The Bulls did manage to recruit Morne Steyn in the off-season to plug the Pollard gap. The veteran played a key role in ensuring losses to the Sharks and Stormers were tight, but has not really been on the same wavelength as some of his teammates and hasn’t linked up as well with the back three in particular.
When he was given his chance, Manie Libbok has been impressive. It cannot be a coincidence that the Bulls’ most effective displays of attacking rugby came in the second half against the Highlanders and first half against the Reds, when he was able to take control of the backline behind an effective pack.
Meanwhile, Warrick Gelant has continued to dominate the starting fullback position. While he has struggled to link up with Steyn and Johnny Kotze in the same way that he did with Pollard and Kriel, he was starting to pick up form before the season was posponed.
However, it is Specman who has been the pick of the Bulls backs this year. Starting in all six games, Specman is currently the team’s top try-scorer with four to his name. This stat is boosted by his hat-trick against the Highlanders and it has admittedly been a slow start to the year for the wing.
In the current system at the Bulls, Specman has not seen the ball perhaps as much as he would want to, with just 75 possessions this season, gathering the ball at an average of 12 times per game. His midfield teammates Burger Odendaal and Johnny Kotze have had the ball far less, perhaps illustrating the change to a more conservative attacking style with Steyn as pivot.
Nevertheless, Specman has still proven effective on attack when he does get the ball, with 10 linebreaks, 14 tackle busts (the most of any Bulls back so far) and eight offloads. The 30-year-old outlined his ambition to make it into the Springbok squad this year. Quite how that would fit in with his sevens responsibilities is still to be seen. But he will need to do more to edge the likes of Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi and Cheslin Kolbe for selection.