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Figuring Out the Bulls in Super Rugby

Figuring Out the Bulls in Super Rugby

27 February 2020, by: Ludumo Nkabi

Figuring Out the Bulls in Super Rugby

The Rugby World Cup victory seems to have given the South African sides a new lease on life this season in Super Rugby, well all, but one of the South African teams.

The Stormers have looked a well-rounded team characterised by strong defence and an attacking onslaught currently being spearheaded by talented World Cup winning halfback duo, Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse. They are yet to taste defeat.

Lukhanyo Am has ably led the Sharks to 3 victories in 4 games in the 2020 campaign and they look like they can only get better from here. Their mixture of pace, guile and rugby acumen makes them a dangerous prospect.

Even the Lions, who have seen a host of their experienced players move abroad, have shown fight and doggedness that stands in stark contrast to their lack of real experience at this highest level of domestic rugby – thanks in no small part to the leadership of a sprinkling of Springboks such Elton Jantjies and Marvin Orie.

So, what of the Bulls? Despite being South Africa’s most successful team in the history of Super Rugby, the Bulls have looked rudderless in the first 4 rounds of the season. They are winless and this past weekend needlessly gave away a last-minute penalty to hand the Blues a 23-21 victory over them.

There seem to be several reasons the Bulls are struggling this season and seemingly will continue to struggle going deeper into the competition if they do not address them, collectively and individually. Backline coach, Chris Rossouw came out in defence of the continued selection of Morne Steyn and Ivan van Zyl as the preferred halfback pairing to start their games ahead of the mercurial duo of Manie Libbok and Embrose Papier.

To be fair to both Steyn and van Zyl, they are both solid and give you safety, but can it really be said that they possess the ingenuity to move the Bulls’ game forward? As things stand, the Bulls are stagnating at a rate of knots and Steyn, accomplished as he is, will not lead them out of this rot.

Judging by Rossouw’s sentiments, it is unlikely to change any time soon as he has backed van Zyl and Steyn to continue as the 1st choice 9 and 10, perhaps to the peril of the Pretoria franchise. A run for Papier and Libbok could be a perfect remedy for the ailing Bulls side.

For all the dullness associated with their halfbacks, the Bulls possess a vigorous back three in World Cup winner, Warrick Gelant and prolific wingers Rosco Speckman and Cornal Hendricks, only the Sharks currently have a better combination in the outside backs.

Yet the Bulls’ flyers have struggled to make any meaningful contributions this season, Gelant, in particular, has struggled to assert himself from fullback, usually sharper at identifying spaces to hit and adept at using his pace and movement to exploits those spaces, none of that has been evident this season.

The wingers also have not been in any kind of try-scoring form that would render them a danger to the opposition. A huge part of this has to do with what ball the halfbacks can give them and with the current halfback, possession in space has been hard to come by. They should, however, look for ways to improvise around the limitations of Steyn and van Zyl.

Pointing to individuals is one way of looking at the problem, but the collective off-field brain trust must also be held accountable, Pote Human has been part of the Bulls set up for a long time and this might explain his insistence on playing past hero, Morne Steyn.

He knows Steyn from his first stint with the Bulls and would, based on this, deduce he trusts him more to execute his instruction on-field than the young Libbok, it is fair to do so, but it is far from progressive for a team that wants to go back to being as successful as they were in the late 2000s.

A game plan suited for success in the modern game cannot only be executed by a player of Steyn’s ilk, but it also requires more savvy players who can think on their feet rather than operate instructively. The coaching staff need to ask themselves if they are employing a game capable of scoring them tries or do they stubbornly sticking to rugby that worked 10 years ago.

If the answer is the former, then they need to make personnel changes in certain positions. If not for anything else, then to at the very least take the shackles of their talented back three who look for more opportunities with ball-in-hand

The Bulls boast a good pack of forwards anchored by 2 Springbok props, all they need is a mindset shift from the coaching staff and some personnel changes and the rewards will come sooner rather than later.


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