Victor Matfield predicts the Cheetahs won’t veer from their expansive attack, but stresses their predictability won’t make them any less dangerous.
The Cheetahs’ game plan against the Bulls has generally centred on shifting the Pretoria franchise’s burly pack around the field, and attacking them in the wide channels. They’ve sought to achieve this by first establishing a solid scrum base, keeping the ball infield thereby negating the Bulls’ potent lineout, and defensively, they have been a constant threat at the breakdown – seeking to exploit an unset defensive line from turnovers generated at that facet of play.
The tactic has been successful only for periods in matches, and none of the current generation of Bulls players have experienced defeat to the Cheetahs in the Super 14 (the Cheetahs’ only victory came in 1997). Despite the confident offerings emanating for the host’s camp, nothing suggests that they will improve that diabolical record in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The Cheetahs’ are a mobile unit, capable of testing their opposition if allowed to do so by being fed with broken field ball or if their opponents seek to replicate their expansive approach. The Bulls have largely resisted doing the latter, remaining disciplined in their structured style, and reaping the rewards accordingly.
The match is again likely to feature a contrast of approaches, but Matfield made it clear that just because they were fairly confident the Cheetahs wouldn’t revert to a pragmatic game plan, it didn’t make victory a certainty.
‘There won’t be any dramatic overhaul of the way they’ve tried to play against us over the last couple of seasons. I’m not saying they can’t change their style, but their [player] resources dictate their approach, and they have some fantastic runners and game breakers. We’re expecting them to try and shift us around,’ Matfield told keo.co.za.
Matfield continued by explaining that the new breakdown law interpretations would amplify their threat.
‘They like to keep the ball in hand and the new interpretations will make it easier for them to do that,’ he said. ‘I also think the ruck recycle will be a lot quicker, which obviously favours a side who want to attack wider because there may just be a few more holes in the defensive line than there has been in the past.’
Matfield added that the new interpretations would aid the Bulls’ phase-based attack as well, but stressed that comprehensive planning in this regard was the key to success.
‘It doesn’t help us to be able to play through four or five phases then have no plan after phase five,’ he said. ‘So we’ll have to be aware and intelligent about how we use the ball. Patience, discipline and awareness will be important.’
The Bulls have played just one warm-up match in preparation for their title defence, and while they may be physically prepared, there are legitimate concerns about their match sharpness. Matfield doesn’t share those.
‘I don’t think we’ll be rusty at all,’ he said. ‘We’ve done a lot of contact training and you have to remember that we’ve generally been an unchanged team for three or four years now. Everyone knows the game plan inside out and out key combinations have a near telepathic understanding. It won’t be a problem.’
By Ryan Vrede