I’ve been doing some thinking about the Bulls and have reached some conclusions that I’m not liking, to be frank. In fact, some of this stuff is starting to test my convictions to the very limit.
Now you know I’m no fan of the bully boys – in fact, everything about that team, from their baby blue jerseys to their appalling fan song, their boorish stadium announcers to their rabid, brandy swilling snor-brigade fans irks me deeply. Any pre-season suggestions that they might actually be a better team than the Sharks, or might be better positioned to succeed in this year’s Super 14 were met with a heavy dose of skepticism, if not outright disdain. This simply could not be possible, could it? They’re a limited, uninspiring team of mindless automatons coached by an unimaginative, perennial Super 14 failure.
The fact is, though, that the log doesn’t lie. The Bulls now face a final hurdle in their quest for a home semi-final (most likely a home final as well) which is to overcome a stuttering and disjointed Sharks outfit in Durban. Their opponents, in contrast, will need to totally annihilate the log leaders with a bonus point and depend on no fewer than three other results going their way over the course of the weekend – this just to sneak into the top four, despite looking like competition winners at the halfway mark. Quite a contrast, especially if you consider how much more difficult a draw the Bulls had this year.
The fact is, the Sharks’ lack of structure has let them down this year. Structure and process is the Bulls strong point and although you may not like their systematic approach to things, it’s becoming pretty obvious that the system works for them and works very well. Players don’t appear to be as creative, as individualistic or to have as much freedom of expression as their Sharks counterparts do, but when looking at the whole, there’s a kind of strange synergy that makes it greater than the sum of the parts. Perhaps it’s a teamwork thing? The band of broeders standing together in a way that the Sharks could only dream of, despite their protestations to the contrary in the media.
More likely, though, is that everything the Bulls do has been meticulously planned. They set out a few years ago to ensure that virtually every single promising young player in the country was contracted and as a result, they have a pool of young talent coming through that is the envy of all other teams. They enjoy success at age group level and their system and uniformity in coaching (and playing) style runs right through from Bulletjie rugby to the Super 14 side. Once you are in the system and you learn the moves, it’s never going to change. You could argue that it turns them into mindless drones, but it also makes it far easier to slot in a replacement in the case of injury.
The Sharks, in contrast, are constantly trying to reinvent themselves. Although the Sharks Academy does well in terms of acquiring talent, there seems to be a surprising gulf between the “chosen few”, those who are in the Academy yet already hold Sharks contracts and the rest – there doesn’t seem to be any real succession plan, or continuity up through the ranks. Add to that the fact that the Sharks Vodacom Cup strategy has been such a complete mess in the past, their really isn’t a clear career path that a player in KZN can follow. When injury strikes, we always seem to end up scratching our heads to find a guy, usually someone out of position, who can be brought in to fill the gap. We never know who the next in line is and trust that the system will deliver someone capable of performing, as the system has already moulded him into shape over a number of years.
Structure on the field is yet another manifestation of this. The Bulls ALWAYS know what their next move is going to be. Sure, it may not always work out and against a team that has figured out how to counter Plan A, they are often found wanting. The Sharks too often appear to lack even Plan A, though and you get the feeling they are making the whole thing up as they go – depending on the Kanko’s, Kockotts, Steyns and Pietersens to do something magic that will make it all seem all right.
The real test for the Bulls will come when they lose a raft of their stars – possibly as many as five or six current Springboks – after the Lions tour. What’s the bet they’ve already identified the replacements for all of these guys though and have been steadily working on getting them up to speed, teaching them the plays and moulding them into the one-size-fits-all Bulls pattern? You may not like it, but it sure seems a lot more effective than what the Sharks are doing right now. Hey – what ARE the Sharks doing right now anyway? Surfing?Tweet