The Bulls aren’t fazed by the Cheetahs’ public disclosure of their desire to run them ragged.
It’s an open secret to those who have followed this fixture closely – the Cheetahs will attack the Bulls in the wide channels. It is worth noting that the tactic has yet to yield a victory.
The Cheetahs, however, have held stubbornly to the belief that attempting to stretch the Bulls across the track is the formula for success, and are again crowing about their plans to do so, the latest offering in this regard coming from Cheetahs flyhalf Naas Olivier.
It smacks of tactical naivety, made worse by the fact that they have a pack well equipped to play directly and the fact that a review of the last three seasons, including all the Pretoria franchise’s opposition, will lead the Cheetahs’ brains trust to find that that approach has seldom been effective.
The Bulls’ mantra has been to ‘control the controllable’ and it was from this perspective that head coach Frans Ludeke responded to questions around the Cheetahs’ proposed game plan.
‘We’re used to that from them and from other opponents,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za.
‘There seems to be a belief that our players are vulnerable against sides that run it wide. It wouldn’t be my place to comment on the strategy of other coaches, but we feel we are equipped to deal with anything that is thrown at us.
‘Our work rate against the Lions [in a pre-season warm-up] was phenomenal and the players are as fit as I’ve seen them. So from a conditioning perspective we won’t struggle to cover the length and breadth of the field. But our focus is on our own game, we’re looking within our team. I’m not too concerned about what the Cheetahs will try and do.’
To reference a popular saying among modern coaches, the Cheetahs will have to ‘earn the right’ to play expansively. That begins with set phase solidity.
Given that they are likely to look to circumvent the Bulls’ lineout potency by kicking infield and backing their defensive line to pressure them into errors, the scrums will become a focal point.
For all their failings in recent years, it is the one facet of play the Cheetahs have been competent in. Ludeke acknowledged their threat there.
‘They consistently been one of the best scrummaging teams in the tournament and that be a massive contest again on Friday,’ he said.
‘We had some problems there towards the end of 2009, but it’s an area of our game we’ve put a lot of emphasis on and I feel we’ve made significant progress there. That said, we’ll only have an idea of how much [we've progressed], if at all, after the Cheetahs game.’
Four of the Cheetahs’ starting 15 will debut at Super Rugby level, while three of their substitutes have yet to play in the southern hemisphere showpiece, but Ludeke was non-committal when asked whether the Bulls viewed them as vulnerable.
‘Winning is the primary objective for a coach, so I don’t think Naka [Drotske - Cheetahs coach] would have selected those players if he didn’t think they could win a match for him,’ Ludeke said diplomatically.
‘They may be inexperienced at Super Rugby level, but some of them showed enormous potential in the Currie Cup, so we’re certainly not taking them lightly.’
By Ryan Vrede