Must Bulls go into shells on attack to tighten up defence?

With the Bulls loaded with stars such as Kurt-Lee Arendse, Embrose Papier and Willie le Roux, they will keep pushing the envelope on attack in the United Rugby Championship. Photo: BackpagePix

With the Bulls loaded with stars such as Kurt-Lee Arendse, Embrose Papier and Willie le Roux, they will keep pushing the envelope on attack in the United Rugby Championship. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 22, 2024


How do you score the most tries in the United Rugby Championship, but then also concede the most among the top seven teams in the competition?

That is the head scratcher that Bulls director of rugby Jake White is contemplating at the moment as his team gets set for the play-offs.

The Pretoria side are sitting pretty at second in the standings on 61 points, two behind leaders Munster, with the last league game left against the Sharks in Durban on June 1.

They already have a guaranteed home quarter-final at Loftus Versfeld, but will hope to beat the Sharks to secure second place and possible a home semi-final – and even top spot if Munster slip up against Ulster in their last round robin game in Limerick.

But more importantly, the Bulls need to find a way to shore up their defence before the quarter-finals.

Often in rugby it is believed that if a team place more emphasis on their attacking game, their defence weakens – and vice-versa.

That could be true of the Bulls, who have scored a whopping 81 tries, but conceded 52. In contrast, Munster have scored 61 and given away 35, third-placed Leinster’s numbers are 76 and 42 and fourth-placed Glasgow’s are 71 scored and 33 conceded.

When you have an abundance of riches on attack, such as Willie le Roux, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Canan Moodie, David Kriel and Embrose Papier, then you should let the ball do the work.

But that shouldn’t mean the Bulls should stop tackling or not work harder on defence. The problem will come in the play-offs, as all of Munster, Leinster, Glasgow, the Stormers, Ulster and Edinburgh in the top seven have conceded fewer tries.

So, they won’t give the Bulls as many opportunities on attack, especially away from Loftus.

White said after last weekend’s 56-35 victory over Benetton at Loftus that captain Ruan Nortjé had promised him that the players would be much tighter in defence in a play-off situation, where there won’t be as much space and freedom to play due to the nature of knockout rugby.

But the former Springbok coach was adamant that his team would not become more conservative for the rest of the season – which is a lesson learnt from two-time URC finalists and arch-rivals the Stormers.

“The one thing the Stormers have shown every other team is that you’ve got to stick to what you do well – and the Stormers have done that for three seasons,” White said.

“They still haven’t gone into their shells – they still run from everywhere, and Manie (Libbok) still offloads, Warrick (Gelant) still offloads, Damian (Willemse) still offloads.

“It shows that it’s been a way in which you can still win this competition. There’s no reason for us to go away from what’s working for us.

“What happened (against Glasgow, where they led 37-10, but only won 40-34) is that we almost looked like deers in the headlights. We looked as though we were panicking, and we went away from understanding that they needed to chase the game.

“We were exactly in the same situation (against Benetton), and we continued to score points. (Against Glasgow) I felt that we started to defend 37-10 as a result, and that’s why it almost came back to bite us.

“And (against Benetton), even though we leaked one or two tries at the end, there were a lot of changes, I had some reserves on, the cohesion is not the same ...

“But there were blocks there where we had much more control. One maul, where we mauled and mauled – a week ago, we almost tried to play sevens rugby.

“Hopefully the mental attitude of when it’s a do-or-die defensive set, that we have a little bit more grunt in our defence as opposed to doing it when we are 30 points up.”