Botha lauds Bulls pack

Vodacom Blue Bulls captain Gary Botha waxed lyrical about a forward performance that absolutely decimated the Sharks in Durban.

Their performance at the Absa Stadium was a throwback to the vintage style of the Pretoria-outfit as they barged and shunted Dick Muir’s youthful side into paralysis.

Muir coaching mantra is “Play the situation” and as admirable as that might be in a country still largely dominated by conservative coaching philosophies, it relies heavily on having players with the skill and intelligence to accurately assess the situation and make split second decisions under pressure.

More than that, you have to be prepared to revert to a more structured gameplan when you are being dominated defensively, as the Sharks were.

Sadly, they exhibited neither skill nor intelligence in the face of dogged Bulls defence and despite Ruans Pienaar’s contrary assertions to this website, they did not have a Plan B.

“We wanted to keep the game as tight as we could in the early exchanges and placed a big emphasis on dominating the contact situations,” Botha told Keo.co.za.

“That worked for us but I don’t think it had so much to do with a poor Sharks performance as much as it did with our guys really executing our gameplan to perfection.

“Even when our forwards were being critisised for what some people said were below standard performances [in the previous rounds of the competition], we always knew that it was just a matter of getting our execution right. We did [against the Sharks] and the result is there for everyone to see.”

The Bulls were far superior in all facets of play, and while Botha has attributed the 50-32 win to execution, the marked difference between the sides was their contrasting intensity level.

While the Sharks tight five ambled to the breakdown between phases, one could sense the desperation of a Hilton Lobberts, Danie Rossouw and Jaco Engels. A defeat would’ve meant a greater points differential between themselves and the third placed team, and consequently be in real danger of being overtaken by the Lions. On Saturday you got the impression they would do anything to avoid that scenario.

“We aimed to work in 20 minute intervals,” Botha explained, referring to how his team had approached the match.

“After every 20 minutes we would assess our performance and we would jack ourselves up in terms of our intensity levels. That way we were able to maintain our drive and energy levels throughout the game.

“We had our backs to the wall coming into that match and the team produced a performance when they really had to. I’m so proud of every one of the boys.”

While Botha was non-committal about which player made the greatest impact on the vital encounter, everyone knows that a mercurial 21-year-old loose-forward, was the standout player on the night.

“Pierre Spies is something else,” he conceded. “His value to us is immeasurable. The momentum he generates for the pack creates a great platform for the backline to attack from.”

Spies’ value in open play was superb, but his work at the breakdown, an area the Sharks had targeted before the game, was outstanding. His blistering pace across the park allowed him to regularly beat Warren Britz to rucks, while his upper body strength either created turnovers or resulted in slow ball for the Sharks backline.

While most agree that Spies’ value lies in him playing on the blindside, Botha slammed the critics who believe his side operate at a disadvantage without a specialist openside flank.

“It’s always easy to criticise when you really don’t know the game or the style of play of a particular team. We play to our strengths, and one of those is the physicality of our loose-forwards. We see every one of our players as fetchers irrespective of the number on your back,” he asserted.

“That worked for us and despite what everybody was saying, we done our talking on the field.”

The Bulls are expected to beat the Griquas on Friday but their true test will be the Vodacom Cheetahs in fortnight. Botha though refused to cast his vision that far ahead, and adopted a pragmatic approach to their surge towards the play-offs.

“At this stage we are just focusing on what we can control and not whether the Cheetahs can beat the Sharks [on Saturday] or any other results that might favour us.

“Every game from now is a final for us.”