Bulls need to raise defensive effort
The Vodacom Blue Bulls are bracing themselves for a massive defensive effort this weekend when they travel to the Shark tank for their Absa Currie Cup showdown in Durban.
Coach Pine Pienaar named the same 22 for the Durban game that beat the Lions 50-29 in Johannesburg on Saturday, but immediately talked up the effort they would have to put in to win in Durban.
There is no doubt the Bulls head into the game as underdogs and will need to produce an above-average effort to beat a side that has lost only once this year on their home ground.
But given their turnaround from no-hopers into contenders, the Bulls are brimming with confidence, although they do concede they will need to be a lot better this weekend if they are to move on to the final next week.
Pienaar called on his side to “take another step up”, especially on defence if they are to have a hope of winning the game.
He did underline the fact that where the Bulls have come short this season was when their defensive line wasn’t up to scratch.
“After the loss to Griquas, we knew our backs were against the wall and credit to Dewald and the players, but we knew we had to fight our way out of the hole. We had a calmness in that week, we knew we are doing the right work and it was just to get the bounce of the ball in our favour.
"The biggest step up that we made was defensively in the last four games. In the games we lost, we conceded so many easy tries that we put ourselves under pressure, and we literally played ourselves.
“But in regards to players and management, we simply stuck together and played ourselves out of that hole.”
Now that they are out of that hole, they are just one game away from the final, but even to be in the playoffs was something the most ardent Bulls fan wouldn’t have thought possible a few weeks back.
And with momentum on their side, it was also an easy decision to keep the squad as is, especially as they had few injury worries after the Lions game.
“To keep the same 22 was pretty easy, and it was to keep that same synergy after the win against the Lions, to keep that momentum going,” Pienaar explained.
The biggest talking point must be the Bulls' decision to stick with a five-two split on the bench, prompted by the decision to keep Jano Vermaak at 9 and Bok halfback Francois Hougaard on the bench.
Pienaar eluded to this being a crucial part of the tactics against the Sharks this weekend, where the bench will need to lift the tempo in the second half.
“The fact that we can change an entire front row in the second half helps us a lot. It helps with keeping a fast tempo with the forwards and hopefully it will work again this week when we face the Springbok front row,” the coach said.
“For us it doesn’t matter who starts and who is on the bench. The bench has a huge impact in what we want to achieve on Saturday. The team is 22 players and Hougi can make a big difference in lifting the tempo.
“Hougi played the whole Super Rugby at 9 and we’re in a blessed position to have two top players in Jano and Hougi.
“For the side, we know Hougi is a special player and we know he can bring something special when he comes on.”
VODACOM BLUE BULLS: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Venter, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Arno Botha, Jacques Potgieter, Dewald Potgieter (captain), Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Willie Wepener, Morne Mellett.
Replacements: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Frik Kirsten, Wilhelm Steenkamp, CJ Stander, Francois Hougaard, Louis Fouche, Dean Greyling.