Bulls defend their breakdown tactics
Bulls defend their breakdown tacticsSHARE
The Bulls stood firm in the face of criticism over their persistence with the questionable tactics of playing Jono Ross as the team's openside flank.
Ross, who has been far more effective at No.8 than on the flank, fulfilled the openside role in the 20-27 loss to the Highlanders last week – a move that came in the wake of the tour-ending groin injury suffered by specialist openside Deon Stegmann
The statistics from the game suggest that the move was not a success – with Ross involved five carries, from which he made just nine metres; he conceded one turnover and two penalties, while he made nine tackles and missed four.
However, both Bulls coach Frans Ludeke and captain Flip van der Merwe felt that the breakdown issues should not be laid at Ross' door.
Despite the unbalance appearance of the loose forward combination – Grant Hattingh (more of a lock) playing at No.8, Jacques du Plessis as blindside flank and Ross, a specialist No.8 playing at openside – Ludeke is adamant that it is working for the Bulls.
"There is the bigger picture," Ludeke said in a teleconference call from the team's base in Sydney – where they are preparing for their Round 10 encounter with the Waratahs on Saturday.
He admitted that people would "zoom in" on the loose forwards with good reason.
"You have to ask what: 'What can your loose forwards bring for you?'
"Obviously you need a ball carrier and you need a guy who can be effective when the team plays forward and when the team goes backwards, given that a No.8 has a specific function in our side.
"We are confident Grant [Hattingh] can do that. He has been there, he is good under the high ball and he links well between the forwards and the backs.
"On the blindside Jacques du Plessis has been effective. He has had the most ball carries, he is effective on defence and in how he applies himself.
"I know there are a lot of questions about our openside [selection of Jono Ross].
"If you look at Jono Ross' workrate, one area we are looking at is how he can have a bigger effect on the breakdown, especially on defence at the breakdown. In changing that, it is just small details – it is a matter of time then he will have a bigger effect.
"It is [about making] smart decisions and not giving away silly penalties. It is more important than chasing something [a turnover], while trying to make an impact. However, his allround game, his workrate in terms of cleaning, applying himself and knowing the system there is certainly nothing wrong with that.
"We are backing him there."
Ludeke admitted that Wimpie van der Walt, who joined the team last week as a replacement for Stegmann, would come into consideration next week.
"He [Van der Walt] is now in his first week of full training," the Bulls mentor said, adding: "Last week he was so jet-lagged, so hopefully next week he can be an option as well for us.
"However, we are happy with Jono Ross and we are chasing the breakdown to make sure we have a bigger impact there."
The skipper, Van der Merwe, also defended Ross and said there are other players in the team that can also make an impact at the breakdown.
"That [the breakdown] is one area where you can train [to be more effective]," Can der Merwe said in a teleconference call from Sydney.
"It is an area we concentrated on this week as well. We wanted to get our body positions lower at the breakdown and get everyone involved at the breakdown."
He said the breakdown is not just one player's responsibility, it is an aspect for all 15 players to focus on.
"You have guys like Werner Kruger and Callie Visagie who are very good at competing at the breakdown as well," the captain said.
"You want to give them the opportunities to get turnovers at the breakdown.
"You need double-hit tackles that drive the opposition backwards and let the other guys get stuck in there. It has been good all year, but it is an area where we need to step up this weekend."
By Jan de Koning