Having foolishly mouthed off at Rob about his lack of comment on the backline duel, I have been tasked by that eminent gentleman with casting my inconsiderable opinion on the matter before you, dear readers.
Both sides have big, bruising forwards, with the Sharks likely to shade the scrums, while the Bulls will likely dominate the lineouts and probably the rucks as well. This is largely due to the presence of guys like Daniesaurus, van Heerden and Stegmann, who are all physical players, while the latter 2 are also effective on the ground.
The Sharks lack bulk in second row, while Jannie du Plessis and Skipper have never been the most mobile or industrious players. Added to this, with the exception of Jean Deysel, we lack real power up front. My expectation is thus that the Sharks will look to put the ball behind the big Bulls pack, and move the ball 1 channel out on attack.
Key figures in the backline are going to be the scrumhalves – as always. Fourie du Preez has not yet got back to top form, while the new rules might (and I emphasis “might”) take play away from some of his great strengths.
Not that he will suddenly be a poor scrumhalf, but I do feel that the extra space around the scrum, the lessened efficiency of the lineout and mauling, and the speed with which ball is coming out of rucks might favour a player like Ruan, who will be a greater danger in the increased space, and more likely to scythe through a gap at a messy breakdown, where the Bulls players might not enjoy their accustomed luxury of steady, front-foot ball with which to thunder at the defender in front of them like so many ‘roid-raging lemmings.
At this point I should digress a bit and say that I think that we still haven’t seen the full effects of the ELVs, and that’s partly why I wonder whether maybe Ruan might have made a very far-thinking decision to remain at 9. Many people, myself included, started lamenting the impending demise of the big, old-school scrumming prop on hearing about the implementation of the ELVs. We thought that the increased speed of the game would see the end of the scrum as a weapon, and the inability of truly big powerhouses to keep up with the game.
What few factored in was the increased space at scrum time, the fact that more free-kicks would equal more options to scrum and keep the ball, rather than kick out and lose possession, and crucially, that the ability to collapse the maul would lessen the benefit of a good lineout. The sum of these factors is that many times the scrum has been favoured ahead of the lineout or quick-tap – especially as the latter option often means that an attack loses structure or momentum, or that a “jail-break” quickly leads back to the cells.
Subsequently, the scrum has increased in importance, and the lads who eat all the pies are going nowhere. The role of the 9, however, has been impacted, and I am really interested to see how that plays out tomorrow. The Sharks pack, and arguably Ruan too, are in many ways more geared to ELV rugby, while the Bulls, and Du Preez, are still playing a style grounded in the days when rugby balls were still made of stitched leather.
It will be interesting to see which style and player wins this battle.Tweet