There’s much pre-season wailing and gnashing of teeth going on in fairest Tshwane this weekend, after the Bulls’ second successive loss in a pre-season hit-out against (supposedly) weaker opposition. Do they have any real cause for concern? Sharksworld investigates…
Now, I need to start off by reiterating that only a fool reads too much into pre-season results. Subterfuge and trickery are rife and coaches are loathe to reveal their strongest combinations or their likely tournament tactics. The risk of serious injury to a key playmaker looms large as well, implying a definite possibility that some big names lack commitment in these fixtures.
All that said, though – the Bulls first choice team should not be losing to the Cheetahs. Or should they?
I have long maintained that the Bulls’ famed “limitless depth” is, in fact, a sham. They take pride in contracting every possible age-group star they can, yet these youngsters are seldom afforded gametime in any serious way. Most will eventually accept offers from other unions or go abroad. Those who actually make a successful transition to the senior side are few and far between. The Bulls, to my mind, are far more likely to draft in a journeyman from another province than they are to promote an academy member; the acquisition of Jaco Pretorius is a case in point.
I also maintain that the Bulls’ front row is an area of real weakness. Neither Gurthrö Steenkamp nor Rayno Gerber are props that can dominate an opponent in the scrum, while Derrick Kuün’s continual selection as first-choice hooker leaves them woefully short in terms of the basic skills of the position. Youngster Frik Kirsten represents a ray of light on the horizon, but he is still young and will need to mature. Neither Werner Kruger nor Jaco Engels is a particularly strong scrumamger either. Lots of beef, but not much bite, one might say.
In fact, for the Bulls, it’s getting to the stage where Bakkies Botha is about the only hard guy left in the engine room, with Captain Vic preferring to operate on the wing – a trend which seems to have rubbed off on his young protege, Andries Bekker. Danie Rossouw and Pedrie Wannenberg are both men who were stalwarts of the Bulls “pack of iron” in the Heyneke Meyer days. The former can’t get a start and the latter can’t even get into the match 22 any more. Deon Stegmann is a busy player at openside flank but is still green at this level and was completely outsmarted by both Hein Brüssow and Baywatch Grobler in successive outings. Dewald Potgieter and Pierre Spies are both skillfull players, but both lacking that hard edge. In short, the Bulls lack a real brute in their loose trio. They also appear to lack the smarts to compete effectively at the breakdown under the ELV’s.
What it all comes down to, as far as I’m concerned, is that the Bulls, amazingly, are going to struggle for possession in the upcoming Super 14. The famed Bulls pack – the juggernaut around which so much of their historical success and playing pattern has been based – has been decimated. Quality has left or retired and has not been replaced with similar quality. They will fail to dominate at the scrum and will be outmanoeuvred at the point of tackle. In fact, the lineout remains the only primary platform where they are likely to maintain their previous dominance.
They may have shored up their back division – and don’t get me wrong, I think they’ll do far better with a 10-12-13 axis of Morne Steyn, Wynand Olivier and Jaco Pretorius – but without any possession, it’s unlikely to help them much. Add the injury to Fourie du Preez, Steyn’s almost legendary lack of real BMT and Bryan Habana’s woeful form of 2008 and there is much cause for concern.
No, I fear that the Bulls are not going to be the force in 2009 that their ardent fans would like to believe they will be. Don’t be too surprised to see Frans Ludeke rack up yet another bottom 6 finish this year – as he has done every other time he’s coached a Super rugby franchise.Tweet