The Lions have produced some top-class running rugby this year and it is a style of play the Bulls are striving to replicate, which should have rugby fans licking their lips ahead of the big Gauteng SuperRugby derby at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
But Bulls coach Nollis Marais believes his team need to focus more on their game-management skills than on trying to match the Lions at their own game and run them off their feet.
“Sometimes we’ve been playing too much rugby in our own 22, it’s attractive to run the ball, but you can’t do it from everywhere. If you make a mistake there in your own 22, you will be penalised. Playing in the wrong areas leads to putting yourselves under pressure,” Marais said.
“We’re still having the odd soft moments, but it’s much better than before. On Saturday against the Stormers there wasn’t a big dip in our performance. It’s all about game-management and the more experienced the players become, the better they will be at that. We learnt, although it wasn’t a nice experience, on tour against the Brumbies and Waratahs. We’ve battled with decision-making and game-management in the last few minutes of matches, but we did very well with that against the Stormers,” he added.
The Bulls know that, instead of trying too hard to play a free-flowing style of rugby, if they can dry up the Lions’ front-foot ball, as they did so effectively against the Stormers, then the South African pacesetters could find themselves struggling as they did against the Hurricanes four weeks ago.
But the Lions are a couple of years ahead of the Bulls when it comes to the sort of ball-in-hand, up-tempo play that is bringing renewal to South African rugby, so if they allow the visitors momentum on Saturday, it could lead to a major setback to their playoff hopes.