Bulls coach Frans Ludeke refuses to get drawn into talk about play-offs instead stressing that their focus is on their next match against the Hurricanes.
The Bulls are unbeaten in four matches and despite being on bye last week, retained the top spot thanks to results favouring them. Victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington will put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack (providing other results favour them).
It would be the perfect start to a difficult tour on which they face three of last year’s semi-finalists. If they replicate their record breaking tour of 2007 (where they won three from five), they’ll return home well positioned to finish top after the league phase, thereby securing an all-important home semi-final.
However, Ludeke refused to cast his vision that far ahead.
“We are backing our systems, the players are backing each other and they are playing well, which brings confidence,” Ludeke said. “It’s early days so our focus is definitely not how the log looks now, but being consistent every weekend.”
Victory in Wellington will have to be secured without the services of lock supremo Victor Matfield, who will miss the match as a result of a shoulder injury. Ludeke said he could return in the next week or two.
His loss is significant given that the Canes have shown a weakness in the lineout, particularly against the Cheetahs who pressured them into numerous errors at that facet of play in their match a fortnight ago.
However, with their lock combination of Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw and their secondary jumpers of Pierre Spies and Pedrie Wannenburg, they still possess the personnel to trouble the Canes.
Robbing the hosts of this attacking platform will improve their chance of victory exponentially, as will accurate tactical kicking. Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, flyhalf Morne Steyn and fullback Zane Kirchner will be key in this regard.
Former Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer identified their poor tactical kicking as one of the primary reasons for their defeat to the Canes in Wellington in 2007, and it was again at the heart of their troubles in their 50-22 defeat at Loftus in 2008.
The Bulls simply fed the Canes with countless opportunities to attack from broken field, and with counter-attacking players of the calibre of Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu and Hosea Gear (amongst others) you cannot afford to be average in that facet of play.
If they are able to find the space behind the back three and their defensive line stands tall they’ll take a massive step towards starting the tour well. Failure to do so will result in a long evening for the Pretoria franchise.