Pretoria - Sending a 'B' team to Cape Town three weeks ago played just as big a part in Saturday’s Super 14 victory as anything else.
While there were accusations of doing the game a disservice, the Bulls management have admitted that the 38-10 loss against the Stormers gave them more than an inkling of how their opposition would play in the final.
With teams unlikely to fall into the trap of changing game plans before Saturday’s showpiece, the Bulls defensive coach John McFarland admitted post game that the Newlands clash had set up a perfect ending for the season.
“The guys needed the rest,” McFarland said, “And the Stormers, needing the win, were forced to play their best game against us. We saw exactly how they would play in the final. It was good for us, because it gave us a lot of time to prepare for the final.”
The Bulls also showed their experience and composure in winning the final by applying the pressure on their opponents, something they have become experts in doing over the past few years.
The rest over that Newlands game, where many of the team ended up in Sun City for a relaxing weekend, was the perfect elixir for the final three weeks.
It showed, and the Bulls shrugged off the concerns about their momentum, and defied the odds of playing away from their Loftus Fortress to down the Crusaders.
Ahead of the final, they kept a blanket ban on talking to the media, leaving it up to coach Frans Ludeke and captain Victor Matfield.
Matfield pinpointed the strategy by saying it was important not to waste too much energy in the final week. Having said that, the team entered Soweto relaxed and focused, and knowing what to expect from both the new field and in a final, were too experienced for the Stormers.
But the lessons learnt from Newlands played their part as well, and the Bulls, who could afford to experiment in the Newlands game, changed tack after falling behind and came back late in the game.
It was a significant period, because while they lost that game with their B side, they managed to pick up more than a few pointers on the Stormers weaknesses.
And in a final, small things make the difference. Preparation, opportunity and composure.
The Bulls had all three, and it certainly made the difference on the field.