‘Stop Bulls pack at all costs'
There shouldn’t be any surprise in the message that is coming from the Sharks camp ahead of Friday’s big Super Rugby derby in Durban: it goes something to the effect of “stop the Bulls pack if you want to stand any chance of winning the match”.
Sharks coach John Plumtree has made no attempt during the build-up to this return derby – the Bulls won the first game in the opening match of the season – to hide his admiration for what Bulls forwards coach Johan van Graan has managed to get out of his big men this season.
“I’ve been very impressed with the Bulls pack. They dominated the Chiefs forwards when they played them in Hamilton earlier in the season, and they did the same to the Cheetahs last weekend and the Stormers pack before the break for the international window,” said Plumtree.
Of course what he fails to mention is that in two of those games – the Chiefs and the Stormers – the Bulls still ended up losing, so he must know there is a window of opportunity for his team even if the Bulls do attain forward ascendancy against his men at Mr Price Kings Park.
But he knows that if the Bulls get the other aspects of their game right, they will be well poised to repeat the first-round victory at Loftus.
“When we played them early in the season we didn’t look after all their threats. It was because we didn’t get on top of them in the crucial areas that they got the win,” he said.
“They put us under pressure and our discipline wasn’t good enough and we weren’t good enough on the day. We need to turn that around.”
But it will be a tall order, as the Bulls have grown significantly since those early days of the competition, when they arrived in the tournament with many people writing them off on the basis that they had lost stalwarts such as Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Fourie du Preez and Gary Botha.
“They’ve been excellent with their driving lineout, they’ve been clinical, winning ball is not really a problem for them. They strangle the life out of you. (When that all comes right) they strangle the life out of you by winning the territory battle. We have to turn that around somehow and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last couple of days.”