Is There A Quick Fix For The Vodacom Bulls’ Scrum’s Struggles?


The South African clubs participating in the United Rugby Championship has learned quickly that forwards, the tight five in particular are the cornerstone on which success in European competitions is built.

The Vodacom Bulls, who were known for their dominance up front has recently started to slip down the VURC "Rankings". The Vodacom Bulls are currently ranked 16th when ranked according to scrums won/lost. 12th when scrum penalties won is used as the yardstick and 6th together with ten other clubs when the percentage scrums won was taken into account.

The Bulls' lack of depth at the tighthead was clear to see after Trevor Nyakane transferred to Racing 92 in December. Not many teams would not feel the effect of losing a player of Nyakane's abilities.

The result was clear to see when Robert Hunt was destroyed in the 30-16 loss to the Sharks in Durban. Springbok loosehead Lizo Gqoboka did not do much better when he was sent on as a sub later on against the Sharks.

It must be noted that Jacques van Rooyen and Mornay Smith were unavailable for that match through injury, but with respect, they do not offer a permanent fix to the tighthead dilemma.

Tightheads are often blamed for a team's struggles at the scrums. However, the performance of a tighthead is not solely due to his efforts and/or talent. Come scrum time the hooker, tighthead lock and flanker is vital in the success of the tighthead.

Unfortunately, the Bulls lack world-quality players at lock and hooker come scrum time. In South Africa, it is "fashionable" to have mobile forwards who can play at fullback and wing too. This type of rugby is fine if your opponents have the same attitude, however, if their forwards dominate they will slow the game down to a low scoring physical battle with the more powerful team winning nine out of ten times.

Is there a quick fix to the Bulls "problem"? Edgar Rathbone CEO of the Vodacom Bulls said to Rapport that it is a long term problem and as they are committed to developing players to become Springboks. 

He also admitted that the salaries of top tightheads in Europe are simply put, too expensive for the Vodacom Bulls.

A long term solution may be the appointment of a scrum expert that can help with the development of the forwards from a young age. Daan Human is currently used as a consultant by the Bulls.

However, until the South African URC clubs are allowed to compete with the overseas clubs salary-wise expect the next generation of brilliant players at our franchises to become opponents after a year of two in the limelight.