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Ken Borland

Overseas refs have made it easier for the Bulls to adapt – Nollis 0

Posted on May 19, 2022 by Ken

Notwithstanding their defeat to the Stormers, playing with overseas referees in South Africa has made it easier for the Bulls to adapt to the way the breakdown is officiated in the United Rugby Championship, but Nollis Marais, their assistant coach responsible for that phase of play, says they still require much improvement in that department.

The Bulls will be looking to bounce back from their narrow 17-19 defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town on April 9 when they host Benetton Treviso at Loftus Versfeld at 2pm on Saturday. They will need to beat the Italians to ensure they stay in the playoff places, and their best chance of doing so would seem to be by tiring out the tourists through the pace and intensity of their game at altitude in the afternoon heat. And a quick game requires quick ball, and hence precise breakdown work.

“For two years we only played local sides and you see the same picture every week at the breakdown,” Marais said on Tuesday. “But you play against European sides and you see a totally different picture.

“We were a bit behind those sides and we needed to adapt very quickly. The breakdown was definitely an area where we were lacking. But it’s like ball-carries, where we are now one of the best.

“We needed to make a huge step-up at the breakdown and we’ve benefited from having overseas referees for the matches here. They give us what we’ll get overseas, which helps us adapt.

“The key is always to adapt quickly, but the Stormers put us under pressure at the breakdown, with Evan Roos and Deon Fourie doing really well. But that was a once-off, not one of our best days,” Marais said.

On an almost daily basis in their build-up to the URC, Bulls head coach Jake White was telling the players and his management team that doing well in Europe would demand a sizeable lift in performance from the team, who had been utterly dominant domestically.

“Jake White said we think we’re good but wait till we play overseas,” Marais revealed. “And then two weeks after the Currie Cup final we played against Leinster in Dublin and we found out.

“It was a bit of a humbling experience, but Jake warned us and said afterwards ‘Remember I told you!’

“Our reaction speed at the rucks was not nearly quick enough and we had to be better. There were also small technical things where they were better than us.

“We had to implement those things with more accuracy. And then there are the referee’s interpretations of what’s legal, what’s not and what you can get away with,” Marais said.

‘We are adapting well to different interpretations’, Bulls breakdown coach says 0

Posted on November 02, 2020 by Ken

“We are adapting well to the different interpretations at the breakdown,” Bulls consultant Nollis Marais said on Monday in respect of the journey the team has taken from initial teething problems in the rucks to it now being a strength of the juggernaut side who are now six points clear at the top of the SuperRugby Unlocked log.

Marais is the breakdown specialist on Jake White’s coaching staff and he admitted that it has not been an easy area to perfect so far this season.

“There have been different interpretations at the breakdown and we do a lot of research into what the different referees want and try and prepare the players for that. We’re getting quite good guidelines from the referees who assist us and I think the breakdown should just get better and better and by the second half of the competition we should be certain of what we’re doing.

“We adapted well to what referee AJ Jacobs wanted at the weekend, we conceded a couple of penalties early on against the Stormers and we knew it would be a physical battle at the breakdown because Steven Kitshoff and Jaco Coetzee like to go hard in trying to get the ball. But our plan worked and by the end of the game we were winning the penalties,” Marais said.

The Bulls are currently ranked as the top team in the competition in terms of turnovers won, and that has largely been due to the outstanding efforts of Duane Vermeulen and Marco van Staden, although Marais did point out contesting ball at the breakdowns is something every player is expected to contribute towards.

“The breakdown is all about team-work, from number one to 15, the whole team is drilled in that area and even Travis Ismaiel and Stedman Gans were involved in turnovers against the Stormers. But every week Marco does a review of the clips with me and at first he tended to chase every ruck, but now he gets better reads and is getting better and better at deciding when to try and steal the ball and when not to steal.

“As far as Duane goes, well you just can’t move Thor, can you? You need 15 players to move Thor. If Duane is at a breakdown then I know we’re going to get a penalty,” Marais said.

The Bulls are now preparing for a different breakdown challenge against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday night.

“The Lions want to play quickly, so we have to try and make their ball slower. They can be very physical too, but then they’re just trying to make the game quicker all the time. So it’s very important that we don’t allow them quick ball,” Marais said.

Nollis & Pine, old friends reunited 0

Posted on May 28, 2020 by Ken

Nollis Marais and Pine Pienaar are old friends who have been up and down the Bulls’ coaching structures ever since they arrived at Loftus Versfeld in 2011, but now they have been reunited on the SuperRugby coaching team as director of rugby Jake White announced his overhaul of the senior staff on Wednesday.

Marais was the Bulls’ head coach in 2016-17, a period marked by poor results and an even worse working relationship with high performance manager Xander Janse van Rensburg, who has subsequently been investigated for fraud and corruption. Marais was demoted when John Mitchell arrived at Loftus, but White has now elevated the man with probably the best junior rugby record in the country to the new position of dedicated breakdown specialist for the Bulls SuperRugby team and all sides representing the union.

Pienaar has been the Bulls’ defence coach but has now been shifted to the role of technical advisor, with Joey Mongalo, a former Bulls Currie Cup player, taking up the defence role he fulfilled at the Lions under both Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin.

“Teams have always had consultants or forwards coaches addressing the breakdown as part of their broader roles. This will become a key focus area for us going forward, especially with the breakdown laws being changed.

“It also speaks to the type of rugby we will be looking to play. Nollis has been around the block and knows exactly what we need. I have no doubt that he is the perfect man for this job,” White said in a statement released by the Bulls on Wednesday.

White had previously announced the appointment of Russell Winter, formerly with the Lions and Stormers as the forwards coach, and former Springbok flyhalf Chris Rossouw will continue as backline coach.

The Bulls have released Daan Human, who helped turn Lizo Gqoboka and Trevor Nyakane into one of the best propping pairs in SuperRugby last year, to the Springboks and White said a new scrum coach would be announced “in the near future”.

CJ van der Linde, who played 75 Tests for South Africa and was a member of White’s 2007 World Cup winning Springbok squad, and subsequently coached with him at Montpellier, is favoured to replace Human.

In the last week the Bulls have also boosted their playing resources by confirming the return of Springbok wing Travis Ismaiel and the signing of talented youngsters in former Western Province hooker Schalk Erasmus and Walt Steenkamp, a 2.03m, 121kg lock who has played for both the North-West Leopards and the Free State Cheetahs.

Nollis is not going anywhere – Van Graan 0

Posted on May 02, 2017 by Ken


Nollis Marais is the Bulls’ head coach and is not going anywhere – at least in the short-term – franchise CEO Barend van Graan confirmed on Thursday.

Pressure is mounting on the Bulls and their management, with their poor results – just one win from six matches – dragging them into the discussion about which two South African franchises should get the chop for next year’s Super Rugby competition.

But Van Graan said on Thursday that as disappointing as the results have been, the franchise is requesting their supporters to be patient and the administration will not resort to any kneejerk reactions.

“We’ve got a head coach, Nollis Marais, and he has our support. But we have had serious talks with the coach, some of the coaching team and some players. I must stress that we are all as disappointed as the fans with the results. But I can’t promise anything about this weekend except that we will try our hardest to enhance our performance,” Van Graan said at Loftus Versfeld on Thursday.

Apart from their on-field struggles, the Bulls have also been in the news for supposed financial difficulties. Van Graan admitted that there is pressure on their finances but certainly not to the extent suggested by weekend reports, which he described as “mistaken”.

“In last year’s annual report I said we are under pressure and when you manage a business like the Bulls then you have to balance your revenue, which you need to increase, with your expenses, which are player costs. But we have an advance plan, although there is only a limited amount of cash we can spend and we must balance that between marquee players and youngsters.

“And as a country, South Africa as a whole is under economic pressure. Overseas clubs have realised they can go for younger guys now, they are professional athletes so it will happen. But winning Super Rugby in 2018 is still our goal, it might not happen but there’s nothing wrong with the talent we have or the effort we’re putting in,’ Van Graan said.

Van Graan admitted, however, that the anger and frustration felt by the fans was an appropriate response that showed their love for the Bulls team.

“There’s a lot of disappointment and a lot of questions among our supporters and a lot of suggestions about where we need to go to. But it’s important that the board, the management, the coach, captain and players, who are all under an immense amount of pressure, keep perspective, they need to know where this is coming from.

“It’s because of the passion and loyalty of our supporters. The fact is, they love the brand and we realise how important the Bulls brand is to them. The people are worried and their complaints are justified,” Van Graan said.

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