Brenden Nel, SuperSport
Pretoria - The Brumbies like to talk about how they play a total game, but are they as different from the Bulls in the way they have executed their game-plan in this year’s Super Rugby tournament?
reports that when the two sides meet in the semi-final of the competition at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, rather than displaying two contrasting styles, the two teams play a style of rugby that has become increasingly similar, one which Brumbies coach Jake White
copied from the Bulls when he was in charge of the Springboks in 2007.
The successful brand has been much maligned by romantics who believe that the running game should dominate, but all the statistics prove that a team with an accurate kicking game finds success.
This was underlined by statistics that Cape Argus rugby writer Zelim Nel published a few days back.
The stats show that in 120 games this season, the team that kicked the most in the game won 72% of the time, or 86 of the 120 matches, showing how much an accurate kicking game can influence a match.
Interestingly, by contrast, home-field advantage accounted for only 67% of victories, meaning that the kicking game had a much more profound influence than playing at home.
Of course, this is oversimplifying things, but the Bulls and Brumbies have so much more in common than the fact that they both love to play field position through their kicking game, use the territory to their advantage, try to limit mistakes and play off the opposition’s mistakes.
The Bulls have already admitted they tried 'to play too much rugby' against the Stormers at Newlands, and anyone who watched the Brumbies’ win over the Cheetahs last weekend will recall how the Cheetahs did most of the playing, but the Brumbies simply used the boot to pin them back in their half.
They lived off the Cheetahs' mistakes and won by slotting penalties.
Even White admitted it on Wednesday when he said his team played a very similar brand of rugby to the Bulls.
"I'm not gonna ever deny that we play knock-out football every week.
"From where we started we had to get back to winning ways," White said.
"And I know sometimes people might say that it is quite conservative rugby but we got to get building blocks in place first.
"It has worked for us. We've got a recipe now for getting results.
"We have to make sure that we do what we do well and I'm sure that will be good enough to play knock-out football."
The Bulls have also been emphasising doing the basics right this week and with so little to choose between the two sides, it is easy to see why.
According to ruckingoodstats.com
, there is very little to choose between the teams, based on their statistics through the season, which point to very similar trends:
• Both teams dominate possession – the Brumbies are slightly ahead with 53.3% to the Bulls' 52.5%. This might not sound like much, being just over 50%, but after 16 rounds it is significant. Most teams sit just under 50% for possession.
• Both teams are averaging the same amount of attacking time needed to score a try. The Brumbies are scoring a try every 6 minutes 34 seconds and the Bulls every 6 minutes 51 seconds.
• When it comes to conceding tries, the numbers are also similar: the Brumbies concede a try every 8 minutes 42 seconds on average, while for the Bulls it's 8 minutes 34 seconds. This means that the two teams have a similar attack and defence pattern – reflected by the fact that they have both made the semifinals!
• Turnovers are not high for these teams. Given the hype about Brumbies flanker George Smith’s role in the game from the Aussies, you would expect higher turnover ratios. The Brumbies are stealing/turning over 2.9% of the opposition’s rucks, the Bulls slightly better at 3.3%. In comparison, the Crusaders were just 2% for the season (Reds 4%) but last week against the Reds, turned over a massive 9%, showing how much their game execution has improved in the last few weeks.
• While the Bulls have had some shockers defensively, they are missing 1 in 5.5 tackle attempts or a tackle every 58 seconds in defence. The Brumbies are again similar, with a miss every 1 in 5.9 tackle attempts or every 59 seconds.
• The biggest area of difference is handling errors. When looking at handling errors as a proportion of total errors made, the Brumbies' handling errors make up 37.9% as opposed to the Bulls at 43.4%. When you take time on the field into consideration, the Bulls are 20% more likely to make a handling error than the Brumbies
• When it comes to kicking – the stat that is likely to dominate this weekend – there is only 1 tactical kick from the hand difference between the two teams. The Bulls have made 409 tactical kicks from the hand and the Brumbies 410. Factoring in time on attack means that the Bulls kick every 39 seconds and the Brumbies every 41 seconds.
• The Bulls will kick and chase more, retaining 10.5% of their kicks compared to the Brumbies' 7.1% retained kicks. But the Bulls will kick less for touch with only 25.5% of tactical kicks from hand going to touch to the Brumbies' 26.8%.
• When it comes to kicking errors – and this will be key this weekend – the Bulls' stat is 10.8%, which is much higher than the Brumbies' 6.8%, meaning that there is a 58% greater chance that the Bulls will make a kicking error than the Brumbies will.
So with this in mind, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke
summed it up quite nicely when he spoke about what he saw between the Cheetahs and Brumbies in Canberra last Sunday.
"It was quite a battle. Hats off to the Cheetahs, there were some areas in the game where I felt they had control.
"But the way the Brumbies stuck to their game-plan, to the way they play, gave them the result.
"We feel this weekend will be the same. They play a lot like us, they like field position and to suffocate the opposition.
"They have a good pack of forwards and are dangerous in broken play.
"They have players who can finish off as well," Ludeke said.
"This is why I say set pieces are vital.
"You need to control the broken field, use your opportunities when you get there and applying the pressure is vital."