Johannesburg - The Bulls' decision to try and employ “an attacking mindset” was at the heart of their downfall during Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby semifinal loss to the Brumbies.
According to the supersport.com website, while much has been debated about captain Dewald Potgieter’s decision not to take three kickable penalties in the last 20 minutes - a decision the team would ultimately come to rue when the Brumbies scored a minute from time to clinch the fixture.
But as much as the Bulls have survived on their ability to close out games by suffocating the opposition, Potgieter’s decision to continue attacking instead of taking the points ultimately cost him and the team.
And afterwards while his regret was that he didn’t take a fourth penalty to the sideline, but followed the coaching orders to put the three points on the board courtesy of the deadliest boot in the competition, it simply showed just how different the approach was on the field than in the coaching box.
If there is one thing you can say about Bulls mentor Frans Ludeke, it is that he isn’t a man to change course easily. Despite the obvious problems in the setpiece, the Bulls have stubbornly lumbered forward and at the 60 minute mark it looked as if their trademark no frills game would make it work for them.
Ludeke admitted he had a 'total different view' on the field than what Potgieter had, and eventually had to pull rank and order Potgieter to make the decision to go for posts.
“He felt we couldn’t get out of our half and we weren’t on top of that part of our game,” Ludeke said.
“The feeling was to keep them down there and build on the pressure. What went through my mind was to build the cushion. We spoke about it and that’s rugby. I back his call 100%.”
While Ludeke backed his captain in public, it is clear the difference in philosophies backfired on the night and cost the Bulls what would have been a hard-fought victory.
Potgieter believed it was necessary and had the final in Hamilton in the back of his mind – another strange factor as the Bulls are normally ridged about their mantra of not looking past what is in front of them. It is more than rare to hear any member of the coaching team or players talk about something different to the week that lies ahead, and no amount of coaxing in interviews normally breaks that rule for the team.
But Potgieter perhaps had acted too prematurely, and was more intent on setting the platform for a flight to Hamilton, something that now won’t happen.
“I felt we tried to play too defensively, the attacking mindset got us back in the game. It was one of the big reasons I made the decisions I did,” Potgieter said.
But as was pointed out – at 14-19 and again at 17-19 the Bulls were presented with penalties, which Steyn slotted. At no stage then did Potgieter decide their “Exit” from their own half was a problem.
What changed between the 50th and 65th minute – ironically when the Bulls started dominating the game, to make him think that?
“It was just a feeling we had on the field. I spoke to Morne (Steyn) and we were both at the same mindset that you just want to keep the Brumbies down there. They are a team that just play the type of game, that they’ve never been expected to score a try from their own territory when they are behind,” Potgieter explained.
“The fact was if you concede a turnover there, you will still keep them there. That was in my mind, and even though we didn’t get the reward in terms of points, we were busy closing out the game.
“I probably should have gone for the corner again – since I had done it a number of times,” Potgieter added, “I should have backed that decision. I didn’t feel the Brumbies could score from their own half and I also felt we had the upper hand through our forwards at that time.
“It was not just about this game. If we won we would have to go win a final away against the Chiefs. I thought that the attacking mindset got us back into this game. If we had followed that all the way to the end, we would probably have won the game. Going away from home, that is what you need. With everything against you, displaying an attacking mindset will get some of those things going for you. The last time we played against the Chiefs was on tour last year and we lost that game because we were too conservative. That’s also something at the back of my mind when I made those calls.
“It wasn’t just about closing out the game, but rather how do I want to walk into next week’s game and with what mindset.”
But things didn’t work out that way and the Brumbies backed their attack to find a hole in the Bulls defence. While Potgieter’s mindset has merit, in a semifinal the cutthroat nature always points to building a lead, and failure to be on the same page between the coaching box and the leadership on the field ultimately cost the team the game.
Caught between two philosophies ultimately saw them lose their first game at Loftus Versfeld in a playoff round.
And Potgieter go from courageous hero to vanquished villain in the crowds eyes.