Bulls attack is their biggest weapon, defence an achilles heel

rugby12 February 2024 06:32| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Players of Blue Bulls © Gallo Images

The best attack game in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, but the Vodacom Bulls know that unless they do it at the business end of the tournament, it will be nothing more than a statistic that becomes meaningless.

And that, coupled with the challenge of taking points across the Jukskei on Saturday when the Emirates Lions host them in their return Jukskei derby makes the task more fascinating, especially against a side that narrowly lost to them a fortnight ago.

The Lions have shown more than once that they can unlock the Bulls achilles heel of defence, but will have to be at their best on home soil if they are to stop the league’s best attacking game.

That attacking game will be given a massive boost this week with the return of World Cup winners Canan Moodie and Kurt-Lee Arendse, both who have been on enforced leave for the Springboks and are likely to be brought straight back into action for the one-off game before the league takes another week’s break for the Six Nations.

While it is unclear if Willie le Roux will be involved in the game, having had his leave altered for a personal matter, the Bulls do also have Devon Williams, Henry Immelmann and Jaco van der Walt, among others to choose from to cover if he is unavailable.

The question of whether Moodie will slot in at 13 makes another fascinating selection to watch for the game, and could see the Bulls unleash a potent attacking backline to match the Lions and try and strike early.

That boost won’t be a bad thing, although the Bulls have already proved more than once they can attack better than most sides.

The stats don’t lie and the Bulls are overall ranked as the No 1 attacking side in the competition - even though their defence has let them down at times.

They have scored the most points in the URC (294) and the most tries (40) - hardly the type of rugby they are normally accused of playing, while fourth in the offload stakes (81) and third in clean breaks (65).

And you will find few fans who believe this is where they need to improve, especially after the way the Lions opened them up at Loftus early and then almost came back to snatch the game.

By comparison the Lions have scored the fourth most points in the competition (240) are a fourth in terms of tries scored (29) but when the consistency of the rest of their stats is compared on attack they fall behind the log leaders.

For the Lions it has been a struggle to get over the line at times, and at home this is crucial in a competition so unforgiving as the URC.

Where the Lions do have an advantage is their discipline, which has been exemplary this season and they have only conceded one yellow card. Their penalties conceded is also the lowest in the competition, with only 63 conceded all season - way less than 10 a game which is seen as the norm.

The Bulls are also reasonably disciplined, conceding the second least penalties at 80, but have fallen foul of the whistleblowers in games with no less than six yellow cards - placing them 12th out of 16 teams in terms of cards this season.

The Bulls are, however, the team that has conceded the least scrum penalties this season with only 10, showing how good their setpiece has become as a weapon for them.

Stats, however, are meaningless in 80 minutes and there are few that will look at Saturday’s game and criticise the Bulls attack.

It is their defence that has almost cost them a number of times, as the last Lions derby showed, and they have been lucky getting away with wins this season by the edge of their seat.

The Bulls stats on defence will make their fans cringe, especially as they lose the most turnovers of any team in the competition (86) and are fourth worst in terms of tackles missed (135). They are also the team that has to make the second least tackles this entire season.

The Lions have made the least tackles in the competition, but are also the team with the worst tackle-success rate at 83 per cent.

Which goes to show both teams have vulnerabilities to work on, and attack mindset over defence has drawbacks, but that shouldn’t detract from what is set to be a festival of attacking rugby on Saturday.