Bulls scrum a weak link

2013-07-21 14:00

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If the Bulls want to win a fourth Super Rugby title, they will first have to sort out their scrum, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku

The Bulls will know today who they will be playing in the Super Rugby semifinal on Saturday.

But their scrum will need serious attention, irrespective of their opponents.

If one needs an example of the importance of the scrum, one look at the recent Australia and British and Irish Lions series tells the story.

It was in the scrum where English loose head prop Alex Corbisiero destroyed Australian tight head Ben Alexander to the point where his 24th-minute yellow card was the cue for his exit, never to return.

It was not the first time a European scrum had destroyed Australia but it laid bare the importance of fine-tuning one of rugby union’s staples.

Fortunately for the Bulls, there is no one in the southern hemisphere who possesses Corbisiero’s power, but there are decent enough loose heads, particularly in New Zealand, who could devour the Bulls scrum at will.

The Bulls scrum, anchored by Werner Kruger for the best part of the season, has not been as jelly-like as the Wallabies’.

But the Bulls being touted as a scrumming force has been proven to be a bit of a myth.

With a rather lightweight front row, the Stormers had the Bulls retreating at scrum time and it was down to Craig Joubert’s officiating to make them look that little bit better.

Should the Bulls face the Crusaders in their semifinal, which is a possibility, as the Bulls will face the highest-ranked qualifier, the imposing figure of Wyatt Crockett looms large. The Crusaders beat the Reds 38-9 yesterday in the first play-off, in Christchurch.

Whoever would have won in this morning’s clash between the Brumbies and the Cheetahs will have settled whether it’s the Crusaders or the Brumbies heading to Pretoria. The lowest-ranked Cheetahs could only have qualified for a trip to Hamilton to face the Chiefs.

If it is the Crusaders, then the Bulls will have to deal with Crockett, who is prone to scrum penalties but is a renowned tight head demolisher.

The Bulls will be buoyed by their perfect home record in play-off games, which includes scalping the Crusaders twice in their title-winning runs. But those were Bulls sides that owned the Crusaders at scrum time and dominated them in contact.

The Bulls haven’t slipped at home this season and that hasn’t been down only to altitude. But in most of their home wins, except against the Kings, Stormers, Hurricanes and Cheetahs, their scrum was second-best.

As last Saturday showed, when the Bulls fail to breach the advantage line, their ship is moored permanently in the harbour. That said, should the Bulls find the smallest chink in any defensive armour, they are one team that can exploit it brutally.

They are not the most intelligent team around, but their forwards stick to their structures with mathematical efficiency. For them, it’s always about the win and less about how they get there.

With sharpshooter Morné Steyn, penalties become their bargaining chips and it’s a bet that regularly works out for them. Morné Mellett, Kruger, Frik Kirsten and Dean Greyling will have their jobs cut out for them but the men in sky blue are formidable at home.

The Brumbies scrum is not nearly as strong as the Crusaders’. To boot, no Australian teams have done particularly well at Loftus, but their scrum weaknesses have not been as badly exposed at Super Rugby level.

All the same, it has only been South African and New Zealand sides that have won semifinals after having to cross the Indian Ocean.

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