The Bulls believe their kicking game and the breakdown will be the crucial facets of play in their attempts to nullify the Highlanders’ primary strengths.
The Pretoria franchise started their Australasian tour perfectly with victory over the Hurricanes last week and are favourites to win on Saturday.
However, despite their dismal two from six record, judging by their offerings in the media, the Highlanders consider themselves unlucky to not be in the top four, citing the fact that they’ve lost three of those six matches by five or less points as justification for that view.
They certainly won’t be pushovers, with their primary threat lying in the potency of individuals, particularly from turnover ball.
In this regard, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke stressed that a low error count and a structured approach is vital.
The Bulls’ kicking game, particularly from their halfback pair, was superb against the Canes. They regularly gained good field position and the accuracy of the punts and the commitment of the chasing line meant the Canes were never a threat from broken field. In addition, they were clinical at attacking rucks and competitive in this facet of play on defence.
Ludeke intimated that they wouldn’t stray too far from the formula that was successful in Wellington.
‘We have to control broken field,’ he told keo.co.za. ‘The Hurricanes have some quick players in their backline who can be very dangerous when given space and time to operate.
‘Minimising, or ideally eliminating that space and time with good kicks and a solid chasing line is vital. They can hurt us from broken field if our kicking game is not on point.’
Ludeke said the referee would determine just how competitive they could be at the breakdown. Last week Matt Goddard produced arguably the worst refereeing performance in the history of Super Rugby. He was nauseatingly pedantic in his officiating overall, with his breakdown management the worst aspect of all. This ensured there was never any flow to the match, which essentially favoured the Bulls.
The Bulls will be without a specialist openside flank following Deon Stegmann’s suspension for a dangerous tackle on Conrad Smith. Pedrie Wannenberg will fill the void and will be ably assisted at the breakdown by Dewald Potgieter and hooker Derick Kuün. The trio should ensure they dominate the deck war.
Meanwhile, it seems the Bulls will be bolstered by the returning of both Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana for their next match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Matfield nearly made the cut for Saturday’s match but it was decided that his shoulder injury best be given an additional week to heal. Habana has flown out to join the team after undergoing rehabilitation for a broken hand.
‘Bryan is in good nick and is dying to contribute on tour,’ Ludeke said. ‘He’ll be a massive gain for us. So too will Victor, who was close to playing but we didn’t want to take a chance of the injury recurring. They’ll both feature next week and to have two high quality Springboks coming into your side for a game against the defending champions is a massive boost for us.’
By Ryan Vrede