Bulls wary of misfiring Lions

Frans Ludeke says the Lions’ poor run of form belies their ability to hurt teams on their day.

The Lions have won just one of their six matches, their latest defeat coming against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The Bulls travel to Ellis Park heavy favourites and full of confidence after victory over the Crusaders at Loftus on Saturday.

The Lions have pointed to their injury list as the mitigating factor for their poor form, but coach John Mitchell’s refusal to veer from a flawed expansive approach is also central to their struggles. The Lions have resolutely stuck to the belief they can run teams ragged without earning the right to through erosive phase play.

Like those before them, the Cheetahs exploited the fundamental errors in their strategy by dominating the gainline on defence and ensuring a slow recycle which allowed their defensive line to set. They also worked from preceding teams’ blueprints in isolating runners in the wide channels and regularly forcing turnovers or penalties.

Mitchell insists that they will continue to play this way, explaining that the problem lies in the execution of the method and not the method itself. Ludeke highlighted the Lions’ potential threat if they managed to find synergy on the day.

‘They’ve played that way under John Mitchell since the start of his time their as coach and there’s no reason to believe they’ll play any differently against us,’ Ludeke told keo.co.za. ‘It’s not up to me to prescribe to them how they play, only to prepare my team for what we expect to be a match where we have to make a lot of tackles, especially in the wide channels.

‘We defended well for a long time against the Crusaders, absorbing a lot of pressure, but there were some soft moments at the end of the match that allowed them in,’ Ludeke added, reflecting on his side’s 32-30 victory at the weekend.

‘Dominating the gainline will allow us to control the game better. But we take nothing for granted. We respect the Lions’ ability to hurt us with their running game and we have to keep improving defensively and not losing concentration at crucial times.’

The Bulls have shown their ability to severely punish teams who seek to play expansively against them without depleting their defensive line by bossing the tackle fight. The Cheetahs and Reds were victims of 51-19 and 61-8 hammerings respectively and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Gauteng derby ended with the Lions on the receiving end of a similarly brutal mauling.

The hosts could be without captain Josh Strauss and lock Paul Willemse, who are awaiting the results of scans on injuries sustained in the defeat to the Cheetahs. The Bulls are likely to be bolstered by the return of Deon Stegmann and Willie Wepener from injury. They are unlikely to make mass changes, but this website understands that they will give winger JJ Engelbrecht a start at outside centre, with Johann Sadie playing off the wood.

Meanwhile the Bulls have refused to apologise to the Crusaders for eye-gouging allegations that there dismissed due to insufficient video evidence. They said in a statement: ‘The rules are clear and we applied them 100 percent correctly. We had the right to raise the matter with the referee and we accept the fact that there was no video evidence.

‘Our players’ integrity is just as important to us, as the Crusaders’ players integrity is to them. I feel the players will not make unfounded accusations unless something has happened.

‘For them to suggest we must now apologize, just because there is no video evidence available, would mean we have lied. It is ridiculous to suggest that every time there is a citing and there is not enough evidence, the other team should apologize. It is a pity they have raised the matter through the media, as our doors of communication with them have always been open for a direct approach. We would have followed the official and appropriate channels.’