In a four-part analysis, JON CARDINELLI unpacks the improvements and shortcomings of the South African franchises.
The Vodacom Bulls were the best and most-improved South African side on show in 2019. While they lost some tight games, they still managed to secure some important draws overseas and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Much has been made about their spirited performance in the quarter-final against the Hurricanes in Wellington. They certainly were impressive with their approach and tenacity, and may have won if a few decisions had gone their way at the death.
That said, they only have themselves to blame for a fifth-place finish which had them travelling for the playoffs. They were too inconsistent over the course of the conference phase, losing games they should have won – especially at home.
Their overall attack stats don’t make for impressive reading. The Bulls finished 10th for tries scored, which is unsurprising when you consider they made the 14th most-run metres and the ninth most linebreaks.
SA TEAMS RANKING ATTACK
What’s more, they made more handling errors than any other team on show.
Some coaches may not mind if a team is making errors in an attempt to produce something special on attack. The Crusaders scored the most points and tries over the course of the campaign, and it’s interesting to note that they made the fifth-most handling errors.
The Bulls, however, were their own worst enemies in that they squandered what few opportunities they had.
The kicking stats – the second-most kicks from hand and fourth-most kick metres – suggest they were a team that sought to spend the bulk of a contest in opposition territory. While this approach resulted in a lot of penalty goals, it did not yield nearly enough tries.
SA TEAMS RANKING DEFENCE, DISCIPLINE AND KICKING
The Bulls produced mixed results on defence. There were the times when they fired to upset more-fancied opposition teams at the breakdown. There were instances when the backs moved quickly to shut down the attacking space of the opposition scrumhalf and flyhalf.
However, as seen in the clashes with the Chiefs and Crusaders, there were many examples of the defence lapsing to concede metres and points. A late lapse in the match against the Jaguares in Pretoria cost them a crucial win.
Ultimately, they shouldn’t be happy with the missed tackles stats. The Bulls were fifth in this category.
A quarter-final finish in 2019 should be viewed as progress, at least in the sense that the Bulls struggled to compete and push for a playoff place in the previous five seasons.
It remains to be seen, however, whether they will continue to build in 2020, as many of their star players will be leaving to take up contracts overseas.
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