Bulls must ‘have a go’ at Blues
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The Blues’ virtually weekly, mass concession of
tries at present should send a tempting message to the Bulls as the South
Africans weigh up their first overseas tour match at Eden Park on Friday (09:35
SA time): be adventurous against them.
This notably worst-performing New Zealand franchise – even
the Crusaders have nipped slightly back into the playoffs picture, joining compatriots
the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders – continues to exhibit a defensive shape
(for want of a better word) and commitment that borders on the flaky.
It was evident all over again as the Auckland-based side
were thrashed 42-22 in Melbourne by the surprise package Rebels in the latest
The Blues’ attacking philosophy remains deep-rooted and
sometimes still effective, but it seemed that every time they looked like
clawing back into that contest, they would land themselves straight back in the
mire by surrendering yet another soft try themselves.
In the end, the Rebels bossed the try count 5-3, which also
means that Sir John Kirwan’s charges have now conceded at least four tries in
each of their last three outings and 13 in total during the period.
It goes a long way to explaining why they remain in the
nether regions: decidedly last in the NZ group and 13th overall with
a mere two victories from 12 matches.
Even when they beat the Force 41-24 at Eden Park a fortnight
ago – in what turned out to be a bit of a false dawn, it seems – they allowed
the visitors to nick a bonus point for crossing the whitewash four times.
As he puts the finishing touches to his plans for Friday’s
tour opener, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke should be well aware of further
statistical data that bears out the notion that the Blues have no special
relish for donkeywork on defence.
They have conceded more tries (33) than any other New
Zealand team, and the fourth most overall, and are also the only side from that
country to have already haemorrhaged more than 300 points as a whole (303).
Make no mistake, first prize for the Bulls will be simply to
win what looks their easiest tour fixture on paper and march back in a hurry to
top place on the SA conference table as the Stormers have a bye – they only
need one log point to reassume command but that should be only their very
minimum target this weekend.
Sometimes sides from our shores go into a reflex
conservative mode abroad, hoping to squeeze the life out of their hosts with a
dogged commitment to tackling, aiming to counter-strike from turnovers, and
mauling and kicking ad nauseum.
It can be a policy fraught with risk, and frankly the Bulls’
best chance to ensure they get their trip off to a winning start may well be to
determinedly “play some rugby” and show the Blues, broadly speaking, who is
boss and why they are the better of the two teams this year.
The Bulls were generally winning both matches and friends
with the new-look width and creativity to their play before they left our
shores, and with Victor Matfield back to power their lineout strategy, they
should aim to be on the front foot at Eden Park as much as possible and exploit
the glaring weakness in the hosts’ defence.
Handre Pollard is capable of dictating matters in a wide
range of ways from flyhalf, and if there is space in hand out wide, the in-form
likes of Jesse Kriel and Francois Hougaard – probably restored to wing if Rudy
Paige is deemed suitably fit enough to resume his sprightly duty at No 9 – are
well capable of demonstrating rare levels of “wow” factor by South Africans on
the shores of the World Cup champions.
Be bold, Bulls ... with that mindset you may even earn the
unusual luxury abroad of a full house of five log points on the day.
The only certainty after the Blues date is that things won’t
get easier for them over the next three weekends.
The Bulls must cash in as urgently as possible. They must
believe they can not only win, but win big in Auckland.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing