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Bulls must break mould

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The Pretoria team have had a shocking start to Super Rugby this season. Here are five things they need to improve to affect a turnaround for the clash against the Blues at Loftus on Saturday

The Pretoria team have had a shocking start to Super Rugby this season. Here are five things they need to improve

to affect a turnaround for the clash against the Blues at Loftus on Saturday writes Sibusiso Mjikeliso.

Attack

Perhaps the most troubling aspect from the Bulls’ win-less start to the season has been the blunt offence. Against the Sharks in week one, they eked out one measly but guilt-edged chance to cross the try line and Cornal Hendricks’ soufflé handling cost them the chance.

In Cape Town the week after, 80 minutes went by without them troubling the scorers. The Stormers shut them out at every turn and the blank mark on the 13-0 scoreline was warranted.

Ball-movement from the base is slow, they’ve lost the art of the offload and everything runs through Morné Steyn’s archaic playbook.

Reading defensive lines

The Bulls have failed to counter the rush defence, which is all the rage in rugby at the moment, after the Springboks’ success in Japan last year.

But there are multiple ways to carve defences open, especially with an experienced operator like Steyn at the wheel. At the Rugby World Cup, All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga’s

cross-field kick-passes eliminated three to four players at a time and compromised Makazole Mapimpi on the Bok left wing.

Provided Hendricks and Rosko Specman read the play and secure the ball back, the Bulls could get in behind the defence.

Recycle speed

The Bulls play “slow ball” rugby at the moment. While analysing their recycle speed on television, former Lions defence coach Joey Mongalo, pointed out that they often took four to six seconds to get the ball out of the ruck when they had the Stormers against the ropes.

It didn’t matter whether it was Ivan van Zyl or Ambrose Papier (both Springboks) at halfback, the ball took an age to get out and by that time the Stormers had manned the barricades.

Team selection

It’s clear that World Cup-winning Springboks Duane Vermeulen, Handré Pollard, Schalk Brits, Trevor Nyakane and Jesse Kriel carried this team last year. Now, without four of those stars plus Lood de Jager, the team is looking emaciated.

The trick now is to forget about how they played last year and look for new line-breakers and influential playmakers that can get them over the gain line consistently. If his papers are sorted, maybe it’s time to see the Tongan centre Nafi Tuitavake.

It will also be worth giving Manie Libbok more than five minutes.

Bomb Squad

You never got the sense that, when the chips were down, there were players on the bench that would turn the situation around for the Bulls.

When Wiehahn Herbst and Gerhard Steenekamp replaced Lizo Gqoboka and Nyakane in the front row against the Stormers, the dominant Bulls scrum deteriorated.

They need to develop their miniature version of the famous “Bomb Squad” – a rescue team that extinguishes all fires or revs up the intensity if the team is falling flat.

Right now, if Plan A fails, they double down on it instead of bringing Plan B and C.