The hot topic this week seems to be the Bulls or more specifically the Bulls’ dramatic slump in form after their shock loss against the Western Force. Somehow this loss goes down a lot more dramatically than in 2008 (I think it was when they also lost in Perth against the Western Force).
The Bulls always seems to struggle against the Force but of course this year they’ve won only 2 games out of 9 and that makes the loss against the Force a lot worse.
The article stampede over the Bulls started with an article by that “Sooibrand specialist” J.J. Harmse entitled “Annus horribilis for Bulls” in which he states:
It is official. The Bulls are definitely experiencing a crisis.
Amazingly enough he then does not explain why he reckons it’s a crises (see later Frans Ludeke’s definition of a crises) but goes on and on about the bulls losing matches and that it is depressing for the fans. Here are a few quotes:
Their 26-21 defeat against the Western Force makes for depressing reading.
Missed opportunities, pathetic option taking by senior players and the growing reality of knowing that your best is simply not good enough anymore are now the harsh reality for this current crop of Bulls.
Even manager Wynie Strydom’s usually humorous voice-mail messages are not even funny anymore.
Their fans must surely now start contemplating cancelling their family reunion’s out of sheer shame for explaining what has happened to their beloved once-mighty team.
How many more games will be lost because of balls lost in contact, simple handling errors and just a sheer lack of desire on defence?
And, surely the kick-and-chase tactic in the hope that Bjorn Basson might catch the ball is not the only option?
This article was soon followed with one by Brendon Nel “Crisis? What crisis? – Ludeke” in which Ludeke respond on the alleged crises advocated by Harmse.
Nel writes: Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has denied there is a crisis in his team at the moment, even though their Super Rugby hopes seem to be slipping away weekly.
At the team’s first twilight practice late Monday evening, Ludeke fronted up on some of the issues facing the team, but denied there was any crisis brewing in the three-time champions’ camp.
“No not at all, there is no crisis,” Ludeke said, “I think a crisis is when you can’t do anything anymore. I also think a crisis is when you don’t have answers for the questions.
“When you don’t understand what is going on, then you feel like you’re losing control. Everybody can see what is costing us at the moment, we just need to climb into those areas. We’re still positive, very positive.”
While much criticism has been levelled at the senior players, and the way some of the top Springboks have been playing – with some even saying players are beyond their sell-by date, Ludeke remains positive, refuting allegations that senior players are not concerned about their own play.
“The guys realise it. In our inner circles there is enough straight talk, and nobody is hiding, that I can promise you. “Everyone is doing their best to turn the situation into a positive. Every weekend we have had the buy-in from the players. Every week we try and get the result, and control what we can control, but at the moment the cookie isn’t crumbling right for us. But we know we can still do something and we remain positive.”
Note he says a crisis is when you can’t do anything about the situation or when you have no answers for the problem(s). Good answer I thought, initially, but then I read the lasts two articles entitled “Ludeke: I don’t want to change” and “Bulls back their game plan”.
Surely, if it’s not the game plan then it’s the players or visa versa. If they can’t see that their game plan and team selections are the problem then per implication they don’t know what the problem is, which, according to Ludeke’s own definition would mean there is a crisis.
In the first of the last two articles “Ludeke: I don’t want to change” written by everyone’s favourite author JJ Harmse it is all about the coach not wanting to make changes to the team. This is an attitude that stinks for a number of reasons. What happened to managing the Springboks in his team with the eye on the WC? In fact FL goes on and explains how he is going to play players with injuries. See the following remarks:
“Nothing changes, but Francois Hougaard and Dewald Potgieter’s ankle injuries may well mean that neither of them are able to play against the Chiefs,” said Ludeke.
“We’ll give them until after (Wednesday’s) training session to see how they have recovered. I will pick them if they are ready.”
There could be eyebrows raised at the coach’s decision not to want to change a team that has lost three consecutive games, but it also gives meaning to Ludeke’s argument that the turning point of the season is here.
Much has been expected of Kruger, especially as it was thought beforehand that Victor Matfield would get more rest.
The Bulls captain has played every minute of every game and Kruger not a single minute – something that does not make sense from a national or Bulls perspective.
This would mean he thinks he is playing the right players so then the problem has to be the game plan. In the last article “Bulls back their game plan” he also denies that the game plan is to be blamed. Brenden Nel writes:
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke has defied critics who say his team are playing an outdated game plan – saying his side still believe their philosophy on how to play is the correct one.
Ludeke continues to maintain that the game plan is sound, and that the best players are playing in the team at the moment.
“I think what we planned at the beginning of the year, the way we play, we still believe in that,” Ludeke said. “We make mistakes, and it costs us, but we haven’t stopped believing in our game plan. There is nothing wrong with the way we are playing, we get into the right areas enough and we have enough opportunities.
“If you look at our games against the Reds, the Crusaders and the others, there were enough opportunities. The philosophy of how we play is not wrong. It is the execution that is the problem.
“Every guy has the right to his opinion, and we respect that. But if we analyse it, our plan is solid, we just don’t execute it.”
So, according the Ludeke the Springboks didn’t lose last year because of an outdated game plan or is he only talking about the Bulls? If so how is that different from what happened with the Springboks in 2010?
One definition of madness I’ve seen is something like: Madness is when you keep on doing the same thing in spite of evidence that it doesn’t work.
Is this a form of denial or just plain inability to play differently? What Ludeke don’t seem to realise is that it is not what he resist or deny that is causing the current losing streak it is the resistance itself. The fact that he can’t see that the new rule interpretation has enforced a new style of playing.
An evolution has taken place and to evolve doesn’t mean you just adjust some of the things you’ve done before. An evolution means that the organism or society has completely changed; it has restructured itself in such a way that the new way of being is totally non-linear with what went before. Evolution means a death and rebirth; a leap into a new order.
Backline play and play at the breakdown has changed. Explosiveness into contact with the aim to blow the opponent of the ball and speed onto the ball with angled and dummy runners attacking space is the new game. Off-loads and pop-up passes is in while barging through defenders are out.
Other than that the aim is to spoil at the scrum, lineout and ruck to slow down the opponent’s ball because the new game is about speed. It’s about creating fast phase ball; about avoiding contact by moving the ball away of the heavy cavalry and attacking space on the fringes. How did the highlanders beat the Crusaders? The won by slowing down the Crusaders phase ball and by blowing over at the tackle contest on the fringes. To do that you need the right players on the park namely players that can stay with the pace of the game.
The following statements by Ludeke -in the last article- are therefore worrying and indicative of a coach in denial and unwilling to evolve with the game.
Ludeke is backing his charges to come right and show their class.
“The same goes for the players – I believe the best players are there. We have rotated throughout the tour, and we will continue to use the squad system.
“The mistakes are what are costing us, the turnover battle was one we always won in the past, and that was one of the reasons we always did well.
“At the moment there are a lot of mistakes and we do look at it every week, but it must be a mental thing. You have to get closure to move towards the next game with confidence. I still believe it will come together. “We still believe we can make it, you just need to make adjustments and not look further than the weekend. That’s the way it works in our camp.
“We are constantly looking for solutions, and that is one of the things we do, not to look further than the weekend. We can’t worry about permutations, they not even on the table at the moment.”
So he admits the Bulls was so far unable to win turnover ball but seems unable to see that the “fetcher” phenemonon has changed. Turnover are no longer the result of one scavenger/fetcher but from numbers that blow-over with explosiveness at the breakdown. The reason why the bulls lose the ball in contact is because they are not attacking space but are still trying to batterram through the defence.
After having said all that I do have a certain amount of sympathy for FL. I believe the game has changed but would not say is has been a total down right evolution. The bulls No 10 and 12 need to start playing flatter on the advantage line with the rest of the backline aligning deeper so they can move the ball away from contact at speed; use the pods more sparinglingly namely closer to the goal line; start to attack space; get more numbers to the breakdown; design a defensive pattern that would allow some of the big guys on the fringes to help with blow-over; kick less and hold on to the ball longer.
How do you dump experience and class like Matfield and Bakkies. I would not if I was the coach. Matfield is still better than 99% of all the locks in world rugby.
Personally, I think there is a problem with the Bulls loose trio not functioning as a unit; with Morné Steyn lining-up to deep and not asking questions of the defensive line which limits FdP’s effectiveness as playmaker. Lastly there is a problem with the tight forwards being to big and unable to stay with the ball/faster pace of the modern game.
The problem with the tight forwards not being able stay with the ball can be sorted by kicking less and keeping the ball in hand. The problem with losing ball in contact can be sorted by attacking space and barging less.
I have hope that FL and Slapchips will find a solution and hope for the sake of SA rugby that they does get it right soon. The fact that the Bulls are struggling might be a blessing in disguise. It forces them to look for solutions; to be creative; to grow and adjust and all that will be to the advantage of the Springboks.
One blogger wrote: “My belief is that it is the coach. FL was crap at the Lions. He went into hiding for a few years and then came back into coaching as the Bulls wundercoach. He inherited an excellent system, with excellent players and to be very honest achieved a hell of a lot with them.”
“However as the game has evolved he hasn’t tweaked the system, players or game plan to move with the times. The Bulls have [almost] the exact same system, players and game plan as what they had under HM. The game has developed, FL can’t develop along with it. Bakkies, Matfield, Spies, Stegman, FDP, Meisiekind have all been poor this year, yet what has FL done to make them up their game? Nothing. He picks them week after week [ granted he dropped FDP and Stegman for a game]and hopes that by some miracle that they will produce.”
“The coach is way out of his depth, that is the problem at the Bulls.”