Bulls braced for the switch-up

Frans Ludeke says tactical adaptability under pressure will be decisive to the outcome of the semi-final.

On Monday, Bulls skipper Victor Matfield told keo.co.za they weren’t buying the Crusaders’ liberal offerings to the media disclosing their intention to play a high-tempo, expansive style.

Matfield said the fact that a bonus point wasn’t a factor could see the Crusaders adopt a more pragmatic approach than they suggest they will, and stressed that the Bulls were preparing for a range of attacking strategies.

Ludeke echoed Matfield’s thoughts, and expressed his belief that the Crusaders may indeed exhibit a hybrid of the two attacking models.

He explained that containment would begin by denying them the appreciable amount of possession they had the last time they met a fortnight ago, but will also hinge largely on the ability of his charges to spot subtle tactical variations in play quickly, and react accordingly.

‘They are too experienced to play in one way for the entire game, particularly if we manage to get on top of them defensively. They’ll certainly have a primary game plan, but the best sides, and the Crusaders are one of the best, are able to switch between a couple of different strategies during the course of a game,’ Ludeke told this website.

‘That’s where the value of our experienced players and leadership core like Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez is found. They are so sharp to spot a change of tactics and instruct the team to make the necessary changes. I’d imagine Richie McCaw and Dan Carter play that role for them.

‘Likewise, they [Matfield and Du Preez] are also central to our ability to spot a dead end in terms of our tactics and make the subtle changes that help us strike somewhere else. It won’t be the only decisive factor in winning or losing, but it certainly will be one of the most important.’

The Bulls have named their most experienced match 22 in Super Rugby history, with 14 of the run-on side having won the Super 14. This bodes well in a match where cool heads are needed, but Ludeke said the value of his less experienced young guns must not be underestimated.

‘Guys like Dewald Potgieter, Deon Stegmann and Francois Hougaard have an energy that is contagious,’ he said. ‘They learn from the senior players, but those senior players also feed off that energy, so it’s a beneficial transaction. They’ve all tasted success with the Bulls, but they’re still hungry for more.

‘What’s more is that young players rarely think too much about the magnitude of the occasion, they just want to go out and express themselves. That can be counterproductive in teams with less experienced players, but they have a safety net in the senior guys.’

Ludeke drew comparisons between last year’s build up to the semi-final against the same opponents and this one, and noticed a lift in intensity and focus.

‘In 2009, I was struck by how focused the squad was in the week leading up to the match, but from what I’ve seen so far, they’ve taken it up a level,’ he said.

‘The guys are in the zone. They are so meticulous in their preparation. There’s nothing that will surprise them on Saturday.’

By Ryan Vrede