McFarland reveals Bulls’ tackling tactics

The Bulls made an amazing 211 tackles in their historic 19-7 win over the Brumbies in Canberra at the weekend, almost double the average for most Super games. But the Bulls’ defence coach, John McFarland, said there is still a very thin line between a good day and a bad day on defence.

McFarland said the margin for error in the Super 14 is so small that just a few minutes could cost a team the game.

“We made three mistakes against the Western Force and lost the game,” McFarland told this website. “Just ask the Chiefs, they had two bad minutes [at the end of the game] against us and Bryan Habana went over for the winning try.

“The margin for error in the Super 14 is so much smaller that simple little things make a difference between a good day and a bad on defence. We had a good day against the Brumbies.

“You could be good for 75 minutes and then a team can cut loose. The quality of the finishing in the Super 14 is just so much higher,” he said.

After seven years of preaching from the same defence hymnbook, McFarland is finally beginning to see the rewards for his patience and perseverance at the Bulls.

The Bulls let just one try in against a Brumbies, a temporary lapse of concentration in the 46th minute in Canberra, but McFarland is “happy” with the overall performance.

He refused to take all the credit for the Bulls’ defensive successes and said that strength and conditioning coach Basil Carzis deserves big plaudits for getting the players into the kind of shape required on defence in the modern game.

“The players’ conditioning has to be exceptional. They need to be able to get to their feet very quickly and back into place for a full 80 minutes and that takes a lot of effort and stamina. All credit to the fitness and conditioning staff,” McFarland said.

But he did reveal that the hard work of the past seven years, in drilling in the same defensive patterns into the players, are now beginning to reap rewards.

“You will make some adjustments from week to week, depending on the opposition, but the basic defensive pattern of the Bulls has remained unchanged for years.

“Yes, every team is different. If you play a team like the Brumbies, who like to play the ball wide all the time, you will leave a bit more space between players to cover the outside. But if you face a team who take it up the middle you have to move in closer to ensure they don’t get through there.

“New Zealand teams, for example, have great steppers and lots of power in their backs, while the Australian teams play the continuity game. So you do make adjustments.

“But the basic pattern is the same.

“You must be consistent with what you coach and then have the patience to persevere and push it through with the players,” McFarland said of the work he has put in with a core group of players who have been with the team over the years.

While the 211 tackles put in by the Bulls against the Brumbies – which forced the Australian team into the numerous errors they made – is not the highest number of tackles, it does contain another very interesting statistic.

Twelve of the players in the match-day 22 had reached double figures in the tackle count, according to McFarland – a sign that all the players have bought into the system.

Even fly-half Derick Hougaard, who is not renowned as a physical player and a strong tackler, reached double figures.

The record for most tackles by a Bulls team was set in 2005, when the Bulls won 21-12 against the Hurricanes in Wellington – making an amazing 243 tackles.

But even the 211 against the Brumbies at the weekend is well ahead of the Super 14 average of 120 tackles per game.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital 

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