It hinges on the Bulls scrum

The stars are seemingly aligned for the Bulls, says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column, but they are going to have to buck up come scrum time, and buck the attacking trend …

How traumatic is that bloody half time interview with the out of breath player who just wants to hit the shed and suck on his cut up orange? Almost all of them are truly cringe worthy, with the Rob Kempson chat to Jan Serfontein, seemingly conducted in a Martian language, standing out.

Would it not make more sense to have a chat to the referee and get his sense of the game? It would certainly get me to hold off on that all important half time trip to the coolerbox … But no doubt the cotton wool used to protect these men in the middle prevents such a chat.

I digress though … it is semi-final and promotion/relegation weekend. Who cares about the half time interview?

Kiwi commentator for Sky, and without doubt the best exponent of this horrible half time invention, Scotty Stevenson, tweeted the following stats: “15/17 SuperRugby titles won by 1st or 2nd best attack during the regular season. 12/17 by 1st. 1st in 2013 = Chiefs” (@sumostevenson)

Hence the Stormers being able to use defence to get them to the finals series or close, but not being able to convert that quarter or semi final to silverware …

And Stevenson is right about the Chiefs. They lead the tournament in terms of tries scored (50), average points scored per game (28.6), and clean breaks (148).

However, on 48 tries scored this year and an average of 28.5 points scored per game, second only to the Chiefs, come the men in black and red.

With Superstars Israel Dagg, Kieren Read and Dan Carter in the run on XV, and rugby union legend Richie McCaw on the bench, this probably negates the home ground advantage the Waikato men enjoy, so it comes down to the two best attacking sides in the tournament going head to head.

I am backing the visitors, but would not put my kid’s piggy bank on it, let alone the house. And I pity the poor buggers who have to face either of these two sides in the final.

Speaking of which …

With all the stars seemingly aligned for the Bulls in that the Cheetahs loss meant avoiding having to host the Crusaders this weekend, but perhaps likely to have to do exactly that next weekend, but in a home final, should they get past the Brumbies on Saturday, is it the Pretoria boys tournament to lose?

Based on the premise that attack wins you the big games, perhaps a comparison of the Bulls and Brumbies then … The Brumbies have scored 43 tries (5th best in comp), scored and average of 26.2 points per game and conceded 18.1. The Bulls have scored 41 tries (7th best in comp), scored and average of 28 points per game and conceded 20.6. Less tries for the Bulls, but more points … Yes, that Morne Steyn boot does count!

Clean breaks: Bulls – 103, Brumbies – 97

Carries: Bulls – 1509, Brumbies – 1831

Defenders beaten: Bulls – 240, Brumbies – 306

So the visitors might edge the Bulls on so called attack stats, but neither side are stand out on that front. With Test match specialist Jake White at the helm for the Brumbies, and BMT champion Steyn at flyhalf for the Bulls, I see this game bucking the trend and being about territory, and who keeps the other side from scoring. And for an indicator on that front, we go back to basics:

Lineout success: Bulls – 89.5% (best in comp), Brumbies – 87.1% (6th)

Scrum success: Bulls – 85% (2nd worst), Brumbies – 92% (2nd best)

Tackle success: Bulls – 85.5% (4th worst), Brumbies – 86% (5th worst)

And therein lies the rub – The Bulls can’t scrum! Dean Greyling, much like Coenie Oosthuizen, leaks down the right hand side of the tighthead, trying to look good personally, but splintering the scrum, while Werner Kruger is not the block of granite you need at tighthead. Hence them picking both Frik Kirsten and Morne Mellett on the bench.

They have rules the lineouts though, but that was with Juandre Kruger at 5 and Pierre Spies at 8. Spies might have some issues in the hustle and bustle of the main game, but the man can win lineout ball. He is now in injured while Kruger is in France comparing notes with Bryan Habana. I like the look of Grant Hattingh, but he is still pretty green.

The Bulls’ tournament to lose? Perhaps, but it will not be pretty this weekend, and they will need to buck the trend next week. Both Fortress Loftus and Mighty Morne will need to come out and play!