Bulls must ‘have a go’ at Blues

    2015-05-11 12:46

    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 round.

    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

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