We need to make Loftus count - Matfield
Loftus Versfeld is the Vodacom Bulls’ house. It is time to make it count.
This was the message from Bulls assistant coach Victor Matfield, a man who has led the team to its three Vodacom Super Rugby titles, as he prepares for a different role in getting the next generation to write their name in history.
The Bulls are wary of the Brumbies – and they know all too well what to expect from former Bok coach Jake White, who will be chasing glory at the hallowed stadium this weekend.
Perhaps it is the folklore that the Bulls haven’t lost at Loftus this year, and the imposing factor that the stadium was voted as the most hostile by Australian players a few years back that has made so many people so confident that they will win on Saturday.
But despite the overwhelming support and confidence, the Bulls know they will have a battle on their hands. They know the stadium will count for little on the day if they don’t do the hard work up front and make the moments count.
While the Brumbies arrived after having to cross the Indian Ocean for the once off, and home town advantage is a massive factor for any team in the Finals series, Matfield and the Bulls coaching staff are drumming in the message that they need to be at their best to win.
“We’ve said the entire year that the Brumbies are a good team,” Matfield said. “They ended third on the log and above the Crusaders, but at the end of the day if you want to win this competition you need to be able to beat everyone in it.
“What is important for us is that this is a home semifinal – It is at Loftus and we have worked hard to get here, and now we need to make it count in our favour.”
Matfield knows the fortress will play its part, and the full-house signs are likely to create a very hostile environment for the Brumbies to succeed in, but he also knows that if the Brumbies start well, his team will have a fight on their hands.
White’s team fell just four points short last year when they visited Loftus, leading early before losing 38-34 and their performances in South Africa this year – especially their demolition of the Sharks in Durban – show just how much they have progressed as a team, and how dangerous they can be, even though they are away from home.
In contrast, the Bulls have shown some chinks in their armour in the past few weeks, and the loss to the Stormers has raised some doubts that with injuries and player departures, they are still the mean machine they can be at Loftus.
And while the Bulls coaching staff love deflecting potential explosive questions by telling all they can only concentrate on their own game, this is certainly one match where it will be more than true.
The home side know if they do their basics right – get a solid platform up front and use the lineout as an attacking weapon, then play the territory like they normally do, then they are halfway to the victory. But that, as they have seen in recent weeks, is easier said than done.
Still, Matfield isn’t worried about the Stormers loss, and the Bulls have already discussed the performance and closed the door on it. A wake-up call that was needed is the mantra you will hear around Loftus. No panic buttons, just hard work to make sure they set it right.
“I’m not so worried about the Stormers game,” Matfield confirmed. “What is important to us is that we have a home semifinal and we haven’t lost this year at Loftus Versfeld. It is always great to play here. If you look at last year as well, after the break for the test matches in June, it does take a while to get your momentum back as a team. Hopefully things will click into place this week.
“The week off has been good to us. After two local derbies, we had a lot of guys who were very sore. In the week after the Sharks, we could see some of the guys weren’t at 100%. This week everyone is fit and ready and we can have a good week in preparing for the game.”
And while they will keep one eye on the other semifinal, knowing a Crusaders victory could mean a home final at Loftus in a week’s time, there is no talk about that this week.
The Brumbies are the immediate task and the Bulls will need to defend their honour at their home fortress. The visitors will start as underdogs and have little to lose. That in itself is as dangerous as anything they have faced in the competition this year.
Matfield has been there before and he knows how to ensure the Bulls come out of the match on the right side.
But this time he is stuck in the coaching box, and his influence on the field is diminished. Transferring the lessons of Super Rugby success is a tough task.
The Bulls will need to learn them if they are to make the final against a very determined Brumbies side.