Brüssow: The Cheetahs' missing link
One swallow does not a summer make. This maxim, first credited to Aristotle, may not sit that well with the Bulls and Cheetahs.
One swallow does not a summer make. This well-worn maxim, first credited to Aristotle, may not sit that well with the Bulls and Cheetahs.
The exception to this adage will be best illustrated when the Bulls host the Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday, in the only derby match of Super Rugby's Round 12 action.
The Bulls only realised the true value of their 'swallow', once he was gone. It is worth noting that the Bulls' best run - a three-match winning streak that included beating the table-topping Sharks - came while Deon Stegmann was fit and playing.
Since Stegmann's injury the Bulls have managed a solitary draw, and no wins, in their last five matches.
The Cheetahs have in Heinrich Brüssow ample proof that one player can make a massive difference.
His statistics tells only part of the story - the many carries, four turnovers last week alone, a tackle count well into double figures every week (it was 20 against the Sharks in Week 10) and his ability to slow down opposition ball.
However, his value to the Cheetahs is measured in so much more than just statistics.
Assistant coach Hawies Fourie was not holding back the plaudits when asked about the value of their 'swallow'.
"A player like Heinrich Brüssow plays a major role in our team, through his attitude and work ethic," Fourie told rugby365 in an interview ahead of their trip to Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
"Just look at his stats, he is involved in everything - he makes up to 20 tackles a game, a handful of turnovers, next you see him at scrumhalf clearing the ball from a ruck or at first receiver throwing an inside pass to somebody."
Fourie described the Springbok openside flank as "the link between the forwards and backs that we have missed so far".
Then there is his leadership.
"He helps Adriaan [Strauss] a lot," the Cheetahs backline mentor told this website, adding: "The more you lose the more quiet the guys around you get.
"At times Adriaan was struggling on his own [in terms of decision-making and leadership], whereas now he can fall back on a player like Heinrich who has been in these situations often before.
"He [Brüssow] has played under great pressure and is used to it.
"That, to me, is one of the major differences in our team."
In contrast, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke gives the impression that he is in denial over the absence of a specialist fetcher in their side - although he does acknowledge the magnitude the loss of Stegmann was for them.
The Bulls are coming under increasing pressure regarding their loose forward combination - especially with Jono Ross in the role of their 'openside' flank.
Ludeke, however, again defended the decision to name the same loose trio - with Ross, Jacques du Plessis (in the blindside/ball carrying role) and Grant Hattingh (at No.8) - which have a very unbalanced look about it.
"We are in camp and we work with the players and review the game," Ludeke told a media briefing in Pretoria this week.
"We get a plan and put it together and we know what we have in every player and what they can bring for us," he added.
"We've obviously lost four world-class players among the loose forwards," he said of the loss of Stegmann and Dewald Potgieter for the rest of the season, adding: "We are trying to manage that situation."
The Cheetahs will readily acknowledge the missing link that Brüssow was.
"Yes, we realised that," Fourie told rugby365.
He said questions were raised, whether it was still wort getting Brüssow back for Super Rugby from Japan.
It was suggested that Johannes Prinsloo and Pieter Labuschagne may now be good enough to take over that mantle going forward.
"However, the moment he [Brüssow] started playing again we realised exactly what he all does.
"He is not a player who just fetches and wins turnovers - he is just worth so much more than the normal loose forward. He has incredible skills and doesn't always get the credit he deserves.
"Heinrich [Brüssow] is such a clever player and is always at the right place - he can also pass a ball like most backline players."
Fourie said the Bulls have, in veteran lock Victor Matfield, a player of similar value.
"Victor [Matfield] is in a class of his own, especially in the line-outs.
"They also realised his true value. If he did not play at this stage, they would have been - both in terms of his ability as a player and as a leader - in desperate trouble.
"Victor [Matfield] has steadied the ship for them."
By Jan de Koning