Pierre Spies fully expects to be battered when the Bulls meet the Highlanders in Palmerston North on Saturday.
The Bulls have maintained that they won’t stray from the structured approach that relies heavily on forward dominance. The Highlanders, meanwhile, have stressed that in order to nullify the Bulls you have to match them up front.
You don’t need to be an expert analyst to predict that the match will be primarily (but not exclusively) a battle of the heavies, with attritional phase play taking precedence over an expansive approach.
‘I don’t think they’ll attack too often in the wider channels, especially early on in the match,’ Spies told keo.co.za.
‘They’ve also got a big pack and that game plan wouldn’t suit them. They’ll look to attack us at the scrums and lineouts from the outset and will want to dominate the collisions as well.
‘It’ll be a very physical game, it always is against the Highlanders, and the side that executes their game plan best will come out on top.’
The Bulls had a near full strength pack to select from, with only Victor Matfield and Deon Stegmann unavailable. Stegmann’s suspension has forced a reshuffle of the back row with Pedrie Wannenberg asked to play a fetching role, while Spies and Dewald Potgieter are deployed as the primary ball carriers.
Spies lamented the loss of Stegmann but is confident the balance of the trio is still good enough to front up to the Landers.
‘Pedrie is very competent playing towards the ball so the void fills itself,’ he said. ‘They’ve got a good set of loosies but we haven’t over-analysed them. We’re focussed on our roles within the structure, and if we each get it spot on, the team benefits.’
The introduction of the ELVs has seen an exponential increase in the number of tactical kicks in matches. Given that the majority of those kicks have to be kept infield, the ability of the covering No 8 to counter-attack effectively has taken on added importance.
In this regard Spies’s strengths have been amplified. He now has more space and time to get his 108kg, 1.94m frame up to full speed and attempt to put his team on the front foot.
‘It’s an aspect of my game I’ve put a big focus on,’ Spies said. ‘I know my strength is with ball in hand in space and when I get an opportunity I want to be as effective as I possibly can.
‘If I can commit a couple of defenders then it frees up space elsewhere that we can exploit. That’s the outlook of all the Bulls players – if we own our role it benefits the group and we succeed together.
‘I think I’ve done well for the team so far. Saturday is another opportunity to move us a step closer to our goal.’
By Ryan Vrede