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Ken Borland

Bulls need exuberance of puppies … and patience of a crocodile 0

Posted on May 19, 2022 by Ken

The Bulls will need to combine the exuberance of puppies in terms of the tempo of their play but also the patience of a crocodile waiting to attack when they take on Benetton Treviso in their United Rugby Championship match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, and scrumhalf Zak Burger will have a big responsibility when it comes to getting that balance right.

The match starts at 2pm in Pretoria, so the combination of altitude, intensity and heat should work against the Italians, who have travelled a long way for the match. But pushing too hard, as the Bulls did in the narrow loss to the Stormers, leads to mistakes and turnovers. Conversely, the Bulls were probably a bit too conservative in the first half of their match against Ulster, before scoring four tries in the second half to turn a 3-9 halftime deficit into a resounding 34-16 win.

“Because Benetton are coming from Italy and playing at 2pm at altitude, we definitely want to speed the game up,” Burger said. “But we’ve also got to be patient and work through the phases.

“We weren’t clinical enough against the Stormers, which was like a Test match. The way they defend, with a very hard line, is a bit like the Springboks and that’s why they concede very few tries.

“They also disrupted our breakdown and we lost a lot of ball in contact, which allowed the Stormers to play from turnovers. It’s about knowing when to kick and when to run.

“Against Ulster, we went into the first half with probably too much of a kicking mindset, and Jake White said we must play a bit. He gave us the confidence in the second half to give the ball more air,” Burger said.

Benetton famously won their only previous meeting with the Bulls, thumping them 35-8 in the Rainbow Cup final last June in Treviso, but the Currie Cup champions are now a much more streetwise team when it comes to how the game is played (and officiated) by the Europeans.

But the visitors will be boosted on Saturday by all their Italy representatives.

“Benetton won the Rainbow Cup and they will have all their international players back from the Six Nations,” Burger pointed out. “I think there are 12 from the team that beat Wales in Cardiff, so they will be full of confidence.

“It’s going to be a very hard match and we need to be clinical and take our chances. They totally outplayed us in the Rainbow Cup final, but we have moved on, we’ve learnt a few things since then, new ways of playing,” Burger said.

Bulls want to play at tempo that’s so high that Sharks battle to match it 0

Posted on March 24, 2022 by Ken

Coach Jake White says the Bulls want to play at a tempo that is so high that the Sharks will battle to match it at altitude in their United Rugby Championship derby at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

White went on to accuse the Sharks of wanting to slow the game down so much that they have the lowest ball-in-play time of all their South African opposition. Sharks coach Sean Everitt certainly begs to differ and said altitude and conditioning were not going to trouble his team.

With the coaches crossing swords before the game, the Sharks desperate to bounce back from a draw and a loss, and the Bulls eager to not lose another home game, Saturday’s clash is bound to be a feisty affair.

“I hope the referee [AJ Jacobs] allows us to play a bit quicker,” White said on Friday. “In the last couple of weeks the games have been a bit slow. We want to play quick rugby at altitude.

“It will be very difficult for the Sharks to play at a high tempo at altitude and we want to fatigue them. If altitude was not so important, then most Olympic athletes would go train at sea-level and not at altitude.

“Science has proven the effects of altitude and the Sharks kick a lot, they play very slowly and they have the longest breaks between plays of all our opposition. We would be very happy if it was a quick game.

“We’re striving for 36 minutes ball-in-play and we want to get the tempo going. Hopefully this is the game where everything clicks for us,” White said.

Everitt pointed to the Currie Cup final in January 2021, when they went toe-to-toe with the Bulls before finally succumbing to an extra-time try, as proof of their ability to handle the altitude and tempo.

“Altitude is a mental thing. Twelve months ago we played for 100 minutes up there and it was just one set-piece at the death and our goalkicking that cost us. We should have won in 80 minutes. We don’t talk about altitude anymore,” Everitt said.

But White certainly does not view the Sharks as being easy to beat.

“The Sharks have pushed us the hardest of all the South African teams and they beat us in our last meeting in Durban. So I expect the same, fired-up performance from them.

“They have lots of Springboks, the list goes on and on of their incumbent Springboks. They are still the form team and the strongest on paper. I expect a great challenge.

“They will be playing for all they are worth. It’s going to be like a final because we can’t afford to lose again at home and they also lost last weekend. So I expect the two teams to have a really full go at each other,” White said.

Edinburgh are going to be examining the Bulls’ learnings about Northern Hemisphere rugby 0

Posted on November 08, 2021 by Ken

The Bulls have discovered that, so far, rugby in the Northern Hemisphere has been all about tempo, reacting quickly to breakdowns and ensuring you cover the whole field in defence, and Edinburgh, their United Rugby Championship opponents on Saturday, will put their learnings to a comprehensive examination at Murrayfield.

Edinburgh enjoy playing at pace and keeping ball-in-hand, always looking to get their strike-runners involved. But, as the Stormers showed in drawing with them last weekend despite conceding two tries in the first six minutes, defending with physicality, commitment and alacrity can frustrate them.

“Edinburgh want to speed up the game and throw the ball around, so it’s all about covering the field quicker,” Bulls backline star Cornal Hendricks said on the defensive priorities against the side coached by Scotland’s most-capped scrumhalf, Mike Blair. “They take quick-taps as well, so whenever they have ball-in-hand then our player 10 metres back must react by going for the guy with the ball.

“We have to organise our defence to spread, so it’s important to scan properly and be aware of the whole width of the field. They don’t want to go through you, they want to go around you,” Hendricks said.

Bulls captain and flank Marcell Coetzee also pointed to the speed at which Edinburgh want to play, but also singled out the breakdowns as being vital.

“I think sides over here have identified taking on the South African teams with tempo, which we aren’t really used to back home. Although Edinburgh have a very good set-piece foundation and kicking game as well, they have brought in a lot of tempo.

“That’s what Gregor Townsend [Scotland head coach] is trying to implement and we have to adapt and shut it down. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a breakdown battle.

“It’s all about reaction speed and we tended to turn over our ball on the second phase. We need to be quicker to commit and read the breakdowns better. You’ve got to work on your second, third, fourth phase as well,” Coetzee said.

This was obviously something the Bulls got right in the second half of last weekend’s win over Cardiff Blues, which sealed the most impressive of comebacks from 3-16 down.

“As soon as we were able to get time and space, that’s when the breakdowns changed for us. And as soon as we got front-foot ball, got our carries going, then we put them under pressure, which led to penalties for us,” Coetzee added.

That sounds like it has the makings of a game-plan to use against Edinburgh as well, sucking them into a collisions battle of which they probably don’t want to be part.

Five areas the Springboks can improve 0

Posted on September 13, 2021 by Ken

Veteran Duane Vermeulen has been on the sidelines for the last five massive Springbok Tests and as fantastic as their results have been, the eighthman said there are still many areas they can improve on.

“We can always improve. There have been small steps taken through the Georgia game, the SA A matches and the Tests against the British and Irish Lions. We slipped up on the first Test against them, but it’s been nice to see us get some continuity. We want to keep on improving and be consistent. It’s one step at a time but we’re heading in the right direction,” Vermeulen said.

So what are the areas the Springboks still need to work on?

Getting the back three more involved in attack

The Springboks’ five victories so far this year have largely been down to their tight five outmuscling and outworking the opposition. As effective as it has been, forward dominance alone has seldom triumphed in the Southern Hemisphere competition. It would be great to see Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux able to exploit space out wide more. They can also be brought into play from clever first-phase plays. Those three are all capable of breaking defensive systems and showing a clean pair of heels.

Increased tempo

One can forgive the Springboks for adopting a wear-them-down strategy against the British and Irish Lions because their lack of high-intensity conditioning after 18 months out of Test rugby made it essential. But they now have a good month of game-time and conditioning work under their belts so the time has come for them to put more speed on the ball. Unlike Argentina, Australia and New Zealand will be actively trying to quicken the game up, so the Springboks will need to be more mobile, with greater continuity between forwards and backs, and maybe even more offloads.

Better discipline

The old benchmark for Springbok teams was to concede fewer than 10 penalties per game. recently they have been in double figures most of the time. It’s not that their discipline has been bad, but under pressure they have tended to err a bit too easily. They can get their penalty count down and that will help with momentum and territory.

More accuracy at restarts

At times the Springboks have looked like a bunch of boisterous pups having a bone thrown to them when it comes to receiving the restarts. The absence of Vermeulen has been felt there and a bit more organisation and clinical execution will help make their exits smoother and relieve territorial pressure.

Improving their strengths even more

In the sage words of Nick Mallett: “It is not up to us to change the way we play because it’s not attractive. You play the way you play best in order to beat the opposition”. And the Springboks’ strengths are their set-pieces and kicking game. Which can still improve!

Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert have been immense at lineout time, but more options can be brought into play there.

Ox Nche, Malcolm Marx and Trevor Nyakane have excelled at scrum-time, but we are still waiting for Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe to really cut loose and destroy opposition scrums.

And the Springboks can improve their box-kicks and kicking into space.

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