Bulls need to plug leaks fast
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Ten tries conceded in their last two Super Rugby matches ... that is a statistic that tells the Bulls the obvious: they need to revisit the drawing board over their defence.GALLERY: Rebels v Bulls
First they conceded five to the Brumbies in the 36-34 victory at Loftus a fortnight ago, and the pattern repeated itself on Friday as another Australian outfit, the unheralded Melbourne Rebels, dotted that many to at least bank the consolation of two losing bonus points in a brave 41-35 surrender
to the South African tourists.
Fortunately for Pierre Spies’s team, their commendable enterprise at the other end of the park – they are hardly having a problem in the try column themselves – means they are staying on the winning trail for the moment, and have returned to the top of the SA conference for good measure as the Stormers wallow in a bye weekend.
But they will be only too aware (Spies was quick to concede it in the immediate pitch-side interview as they came off their maiden visit to AAMI Park relieved to have done the full-house job) that stopping the leaks is an urgent requirement.
There are still just too many in-field clean line breaks against them, while close to their own try-line a problem has certainly taken root regarding a lack of “numbers” in front of or at least nearby enemy ball-carriers, plus perhaps an overly upright approach to halting drives.
The situation was especially chaotic in the first half of Friday’s often exhilarating contest where the Rebels, it must be said, played above themselves for good doses of the game and their flyhalf Kurtley Beale was in his attacking element, considering the breathless fluidity to proceedings.
We witnessed the reasonably unusual event of both teams bagging their four-try bonus point before the interval hooter, and maybe the eventual winners will take some comfort from the fact that they did improve their tackling enough in the second 40 minutes to limit the try flow to one further dot-down apiece.
The Bulls were helped by useful, extremely high energy levels from replacements Arno Botha (a necessary one in the 45th minute as physical blind-sider Jacques Potgieter hobbled off with a left knee injury) and, in midfield, Johann Sadie who may just start to generate a wee reputation for playing his best rugby abroad!
The latter may also wriggle his way back into starting contention alongside staple No 12 Wynand Olivier, as a suspicion remains that for all his talent in an offensive capacity, the rangy JJ Engelbrecht is still having one or two organisational issues defensively in his new posting at outside centre.
There is no reason to believe that the Bulls will do anything but acknowledge that their try-concession woes would have probably have cost them more dearly had they been playing, for instance, any of their remaining tour foes in the successive form of the Waratahs, Highlanders and Chiefs.
At least they can say they achieved their No 1 priority of ensuring a “maximum” start to their overseas leg against the side which always shaped as easiest obstacle despite the many heart-stopping moments in the clash.
And from a ticking-of-boxes point of view, the men from Pretoria will be satisfied that their composure held firm on an unexpectedly taxing night, their own thrust and slickness with ball in hand was evident once more, and some of their forward battering rams did their trademark jobs with great urgency and zeal.
With Springbok thoughts creeping ever-closer to front of mind now, Morne Steyn’s
superb all-round night at No 10 (including a return to bull’s-eye best off the tee) would have been a great comfort to national coach Heyneke Meyer.
Apart from scoring one try himself, Steyn was instrumental in one or two others through his exemplary sense of awareness, while a couple of beautifully-weighted passes or cheeky dinks over the top would have had everyone oohing and aahing for much longer had his name been Dan Carter, I have no doubt.
So the Bulls machine rumbles on, though it will surely stop for some necessary tuning ahead of the Sydney clash with the Waratahs (Friday, 11:40).*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing