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Bulls play the percentages but don't expect much flair

Date

Paul Cully

Big task … Tahs captain Rocky Elsom faces the Bulls tonight.

Big task … Tahs captain Rocky Elsom faces the Bulls tonight. Photo: Steve Christo

Placed alongside some flashier examples of the modern age, Bulls five-eighth Morne Steyn cuts an unprepossessing figure. But take a second look. There might be a touch of the diligent suburban accountant about him, but not many can claim to have changed the very way the game is played. His impact has been quite profound.

In 2009, the Springboks, reading the rules of the day more adroitly than their rivals, perfected a game plan of relentlessly raining down kicks on the opposition back three. Laser-guided inquiries from Steyn and Fourie du Preez frequently landed on their targets at the same time as half of the Springboks pack, often accompanied by a chasing winger for good measure. And it created such havoc that it prompted the All Blacks, among others, to rip up the job description of Test winger and start over. These days the model winger in the nation that unleashed Jonah Lomu and Joe Rokocoko is a Cory Jane. In Queensland, Dom Shipperley has pace and aerial skills in equal measure.

The game has changed since 2009. It is supposed the boot plays a slightly less-defining role. And they say the Bulls play a wider game this year. Perhaps. But do not expect a repeat of last week's looseness against the Rebels tonight.

The Bulls still form the fewest rucks a game in the competition and the ball is in play for less time (31 minutes and 35 seconds) than any other side during their games. Steyn chooses the running option one time in every 20. Yet they sit near the top of the ladder in pursuit of a home final that would position them nicely for another shot at the title.

Whether this is a positive is an argument for the aesthetes. Crowds in South Africa don't appear to have suffered. You might argue that the Steyn style is getting in the way of "playing rugby", but be careful not to be tripped up by the principle of consistency. We laud the "all shapes and sizes" argument when it comes to physiques and so it must be with tactics.

Besides, we can get too snooty about these things. Kicking is still a skill, as is receiving. The Bulls' left-winger, Bjorn Basson, might just be the finest exponent of catching the attacking up-and-under in the world. He has tremendous judgment and spring, and no shortage of courage.

Others might find beauty in the aggression of bruising new second-rower Juandre Kruger. Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield have been farewelled by the men from Pretoria and have quickly moved on. In truth, the old warriors had one eye on the World Cup during last year's Super competition.

But the manner in which the game is being officiated still provides plenty of scope for the Bulls' approach to be successful. Consider the implications of the following statistic. In last week's game between the Crusaders and Reds, as Ewen McKenzie referred to in his column yesterday, 56.3 per cent of ruck and maul penalties were awarded against the team with the ball.

It was a bloated figure but the competition average - 36.5 per cent - tells a story. In our contestable code there is a risk in possession and an opportunity without it, especially against a goalkicker like Steyn and breakaways such as CJ Stander and Deon Stegmann with power over the ball.

In trying to establish if the game has become more suited to the conservatives this year, things become a little trickier.

Certainly kicking has been prominent in games between the heavyweights. And there have been slightly more penalties this year, and more penalties awarded against the team in possession. But our numbers man at ruckingoodstats.com cautions that the increases are not statistically significant. It is always advisable to read the warnings on the label when handling dangerous material. If there are trends, they are emerging rather than confirmed.

For the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium tonight the task is simply expressed: the Bulls present particular challenges but unpredictability will not be among them.

There was a telling moment last week in the Brumbies game when former comrade Ben Mowen won an important turnover at a second-half breakdown. Mowen is having a strong season but the tall, angular blindside with long levers is no natural jackal.

Accordingly, the Waratahs' clean-outs against the Bulls will need to have much more conviction. Encouraging selections have been made by the Waratahs' coaches but they will not mean a thing unless accompanied by some hard shoulders and hunger.

It is an evening for the unspectacular but effective. They only need look at the opposition No.10 for any evidence of that.

Twitter: @whiskeycully

4 comments so far

  • Insightful and well-written article. Good work Paul.

    Commenter
    whiteryno
    Date and time
    May 11, 2012, 6:29PM
    • Agreed. I haven't been a Cully fan in the past, but this is well written.

      Commenter
      DK
      Date and time
      May 11, 2012, 8:09PM
  • i dont know how SA crowds can sit through 80 minutes of a Bulls game. SA teams (barring Cheetahs) play by the theory: "a win is a win". doesnt matter how or how much by. good for them but bad for rugby in general..

    Commenter
    tropicalNERD
    Date and time
    May 11, 2012, 7:13PM
    • You must be joking. Look at the try count in past competitions. And by the way, what's duller than an Australian derby, esp. where the Rebels and Force are concerned?

      Commenter
      whiteryno
      Date and time
      May 11, 2012, 8:33PM

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Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10 vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8 vs HUR 22 Report Stats
BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Report Stats
BUL 17 vs STO 29 Report Stats
WAR 13 vs FOR 25 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19 vs BRU 17 Report Stats
REB 28 vs WAR 38 Report Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
BUL 13 vs HUR 17 Report Stats
HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Report Stats
RED 18 vs FOR 6 Report Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27 vs BLU 16 Report Stats
SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20 vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15 vs BRU 20 Report Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19 vs STO 22 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 17 vs HIG 20 Report Stats
BRU 27 vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 10 vs LIO 13 Report Stats
RED 5 vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20 vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29 vs SHA 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30 vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17 vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34 vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26 vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19 vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10 vs SHA 27 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13 vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16 vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 57 vs CHT 14 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 25 vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12 vs CHF 11 Report Stats
WAR 28 vs BRU 13 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36 vs REB 12 Stats
RED 17 vs LIO 18 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs CHT 14:30WS
HIG vs STO 17:35FBS
WAR vs BLU 19:40AS
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA vs FOR 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
BUL vs CRU 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs STO 18:35WS
REB vs RED 20:40AAMI
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs BLU 18:35WS
BRU vs CHT 20:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA vs CRU 01:00Growthpoint Kings Park
LIO vs BUL 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BRU 18:35EP
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HIG 18:35AMI
WAR vs STO 20:40AS
FOR vs CHT 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO vs SHA 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
BUL vs RED 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs CHF 18:35AMI
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR vs WAR 15:30WS
HIG vs BLU 18:35FBS
BRU vs REB 20:40GIO Stadium
FOR vs STO 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA vs BUL 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
CHT vs RED 04:10FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF vs FOR 18:35WS
BRU vs HIG 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs BLU 18:35AMI
WAR vs REB 20:40ANZ
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO vs CHT 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BUL 04:10DHL Newlands
RED vs HUR 17:05SS
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG vs SHA 18:35FBS
BRU vs WAR 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs FOR 16:30EP
HUR vs CRU 18:35WS
REB vs CHF 20:40AAMI
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs STO 02:05FSS
BUL vs LIO 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs RED 18:35AMI
REB vs BLU 20:40AAMI
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs SHA 18:35WS
FOR vs WAR 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs HIG 00:00Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BRU 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BUL 18:35EP
RED vs REB 20:40SS
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs CHF 18:35WS
WAR vs SHA 20:40AS
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs BRU 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
CHT vs HIG 04:10FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF vs BUL 18:35Rotorua International Stadium
RED vs SHA 20:40SS
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HUR 18:35Emirates Airlines Park
WAR vs CRU 20:40ANZ
FOR vs HIG 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs LIO 02:05FSS
STO vs REB 04:10DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HUR 18:35Trafalgar Park
BRU vs BUL 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA vs REB 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
HIG vs CHF 18:35Rugby Park
FOR vs RED 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO vs CHT 02:05DHL Newlands
LIO vs WAR 04:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR vs HIG 18:35McLean Park
FOR vs BRU 22:00nib Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB vs BUL 16:30AAMI
BLU vs CRU 18:35EP
RED vs CHF 20:40SS
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CHT vs WAR 00:00FSS
STO vs LIO 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HIG 18:35EP
REB vs FOR 20:40AAMI
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU vs CRU 16:30GIO Stadium
CHF vs HUR 18:35Yarrow Stadium
WAR vs RED 20:40AS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL vs CHT 02:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA vs STO 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Hurricanes 6 6 0 0 85 27
Brumbies 6 4 2 0 73 20
Stormers 5 4 1 0 33 16
Chiefs 6 4 2 0 36 19
Sharks 6 3 3 0 5 15
Waratahs 5 3 2 0 24 14
Highlanders 5 3 2 0 4 15
Bulls 5 3 2 0 12 14
View all
 
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