Bulls and Sharks Lead the Way, But Then What?

James MortimerAnalyst IApril 2, 2009

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 7:  Pedrie Wannenburg and Victor Matfield of the Bulls head up field during the round four Super 14 match between Bulls and Stormers at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on March 7, 2009 in Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Led by the Bulls and the Sharks, bar a massive change of form, one would think that at the very least, one of the forerunning South African franchises will be represented in the semi, if not the grand final.


However, the Cheetahs and Lions continue to disappoint, which is a further blight on a nation hoping to implement another team in the competition.


Surely, the overall depth of South African rugby, considering that numerous unions are still not represented, is immense in the strongholds of Pretoria and Durban, but weak elsewhere.


Bulls: 16 tries scored (equal seventh), 14 tries conceded (equal third)

Key statistics: Second in scrum retention, 12th in total rucks, 12th in missed tackles, 14th in offloads


Bulls (penalties/free kicks): 28: 57

Bulls (22): Crusaders (away), Waratahs (away), Brumbies (away), Chiefs (home), Western Force (home), Cheetahs (home), Sharks (away)


Fearsome in the pack, with a powerful scrum, and can move up field rapidly without stringing phases together.


Despite looking more complete with solid backline play, they run hard andstraight, with little offloading.  A statistically weak defence that hasn’t been often breached, if they are in a strong position for another top four berth.


Sharks: 21 tries scored (Second), 14 tries conceded (Third)

Key statistics: First in kicks from hand, third in turnovers conceded, third most scrums won, fifth in running metres, 14th in missed tackles


Sharks (penalties/free kicks): 37: 66

Sharks (26 points):  Hurricanes (home), Cheetahs (away), Crusaders (home), Highlanders (home), Waratahs (home), Bulls (home)


The first statistic tells the biggest story, with the Natal based franchise being the best kicking team of the competition, playing a well structured tactical game.  Equally, their complete game is solid at the set piece and their backs are involved constantly during the match.


Curiously, they have missed more tackles than any other team, which is a testament to their cover defence that they don’t leak more tries.  All but guaranteed a final berth with so many home games still to come.


Stormers: 16 tries scored (equal seventh), 11 tries conceded (equal first)

Key statistics: First in goal kicking, 13th in total scrums


Stormers (penalties/free kicks): 32: 58

Stormers (13):  NSW Waratahs (away), Brumbies (away), Hurricanes (away), Highlanders (away), Chiefs (home), Western Force (home), Cheetahs (away)

Not much to say in a team that sits in the bottom half of most match statistics, beyond a brilliant points kicking percentage and brilliant defence.  However, at the half way point of the competition, the Stormers are by far the biggest disappointment of the tournament.


With Springboks littered throughout the team, a vast improvement needs to be displayed for the benefit of the passionate Western province fans.  Tough finish to the season.


Cheetahs: 9 tries scored (14th), 23 tries conceded (13th)

Key statistics: First in line outs won, 14th in ball carries, equal first in fewest turnovers, 13th in total rucks 


Cheetahs (penalties/free kicks) : 41: 52

Cheetahs (2):  Brumbies (home), Sharks (home), Chiefs (home), Crusaders (home), NSW Waratahs (home), Bulls (away), Stormers (home)


For a cellar dweller, they surprisingly wield the best lineout and the best ball security of any team in the competition.  Really, these are damning statistics for the coaching team, as these are patterns in which there on field play should be built around. 


They rarely use the pill in hand, being uninventive with the ball in play.  Have still to play a home game this season.


Lions: 14 tries scored (10th), 22 tries conceded (12th)

Key statistics: Ninth in turnovers conceded, third best in scrum retention, 12th in total line outs, 10th in ball carries, first in drop goals


Lions (penalties/free kicks): 30: 50

Lions (12): Chiefs (away), Blues (away), Queensland Reds (away), Western Force (away), Crusaders (home), Highlanders (home), NSW Waratahs (home)

While the Lions are not setting the competition on fire, their consistency withtheir statistics (withmost of them in the middle of all the teams) this has been matched with an upset win over the Brumbies and a late charge against the Hurricanes.  Strong in the pack, they are punching above their weight.