The Waratahs are preparing for their biggest match of the season this Saturday night when they take on the Bulls from Pretoria. The game has taken on added importance after last week’s shock loss to the Force, with the Tah’s needing to win in order to keep in touch with the leaders of the Australian conference.
Standing in their way will be a Bulls team that the men in sky blue have not tasted victory against since 2006, and despite the Bulls recent road woes the Waratahs cannot afford to take them lightly.
The match itself shapes up to be a fascinating contest of contrasting styles. In the second year under Michael Cheika the Waratahs have made good on their promise to play ball in hand rugby, averaging the most carries (129.3) per game than any side in the competition. As well as the third most running metres (490.3) and least kicks in general play.
Conversely, the Bulls play a more traditional forward dominated game, relying on set piece excellence and an astute kicking game. An approach that has seen them register the second least amount of carries per game (91.1) and the lowest metres (298.8) whilst amassing the most kicks in general play.
However, despite the clear statistical advantage, the Waratahs this year have struggled against teams who employ this style of play, often being outworked in the contact zones. The Tah’s commitment to expansive rugby has often led to ball carriers becoming isolated and conceding penalties, often when in scoring position. A trend that has seen the team become the most penalised in the competition (14.1 conceded per game).
This will need to be rectified in order to challenge the Bulls, who’s set piece dominance (93.3% lineout success rate) will allow them the confidence to kick to the corners and back their rolling maul.
If the Waratahs can improve their discipline and keep possession, they should have too much firepower for the Bulls to handle. However if the game becomes a forward based battle with plenty of set piece, the tourists will be right in this game to the end.
How the Tah’s can win
Despite only playing in four games this season, the flying fullback sits atop the competitions try scoring table with 8. With big Izzy back in the lineup, look for the Tah’s to rediscover that spark in attack that has been missing in his absence.
Convert Dominance into points
Last week the Waratahs beat the force in almost every statistical category, except the one that counts the most. It is unacceptable to lose a match in which you maintain more than 60% of possession and more than double you opponent’s rucks and mauls. A more clinical effort is required this week or the Tah’s will be staring down the barrel of two straight defeats.
Set Piece Parity
The Waratahs have continued to struggle in the set piece, being humiliated in this department by the Force a week ago. Anything less than parity against a big and technically strong Bulls pack will make for a long night in the office.