Coach Jake White believes there are only ‘small margins’ separating the Vodacom Bulls from hitting their stride, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
It’s been impossible to know just how much to read into the various team performances over the first couple of rounds of the rebooted domestic competition.
The Cheetahs have picked up two wins to start Vodacom Super Rugby Unlocked, but were far from their flee-flowing best against the Bulls last weekend.
The Stormers picked up a win over the Lions, but both coach John Dobson and captain Siya Kolisi admitted they were far from satisfied with the performance, while the Sharks’ first-round victory also saw them having to hang on for dear life as the Lions mounted a strong fightback.
It’s been the story of a start to the season that’s restarted after more than six months of inactivity after competition was halted due to the coronavirus.
These are extraordinary circumstances, and as the Bulls prepare for a rematch against a Sharks side they comprehensively defeated in a pre-season match, White agreed that it would take times for teams to really find their footing again.
‘I think the most important thing for me this weekend is to see some cohesion, and to get some rhythm to both our attack and defence,’ he commented.
And when asked how long he projected it might take for the competition to start seeing some more compelling, cohesive performances, White acknowledged it was not an exact science.
‘I wish I knew the answer [to how long it will take], obviously the team that gets it right quickest is going to be the one hitting their straps and creating problems.
‘But yes, the reality is that there haven’t been too many scintillating rugby games. There’s been a lot of stop-start matches, and the games have also been slowed down even as the referees – by their own admission – come to terms with the new law interpretations.
‘I hope it’s going to be us who hit our straps quickly, but this is a very new group in terms of coaches and players … It’s not an excuse for us, we’ve just got to make sure we try and get some rhythm and cohesion.’
This week White has made several changes to the Bulls team, and suggested it was inevitable that new combinations would only really start to gel as the season progressed.
‘The strength of the bench is very important, and the one thing I was happy about last week was the way the bench came on and made a massive impact. We’re still very young in terms of the evolution of our group, and that’s not a negative or excuse because we want to hit the ground running like we did in the warm-up game against the Sharks.
‘But we were perhaps a bit seduced by how easy it was in that first game … We’re little margins away, we’ll get it right, I’m confident with the group and the changes we’ve made that we’ll be fine.’
Meanwhile, captain Duane Vermeulen said they certainly expected to face a kicking barrage from a Sharks side that has a clearly defined territorial game.
‘We’ve seen how the Sharks play, and they don’t like to play rugby in their own half. They’re going to look to play in the right areas of the field, and put us under pressure in our half.
‘That’s where they create their turnovers and get onto the front foot. We’re expecting the same game plan, they do kick a lot, and they do kick for territory. So we’ll need to make sure we don’t make mistakes in our half.’
Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images