Johannesburg - The Vodacom Bulls made a conscious decision to attack the Emirates Lions strengths during the Vodacom Super Rugby game on Saturday, thereby setting the precedent for their month long overseas tour that awaits.
According to the supersport.com website, with points at a premium and the Bulls benefitting from the DHL Stormers’ loss in Bloemfontein this past weekend, the team decided to take the attack to the Lions, not only to try and secure the bonus point on offer, but also to set the trend for a crucial tour that will decide their fate in this year’s competition.
The Bulls are now four points ahead of the Stormers in the South African conference, and second on the overall log. But while they are on a bye this week preparing for the long flight to Australasia, the Stormers have home games ahead of them and a definite advantage when it comes to finishing the season with more preferable fixtures.
The Bulls on the other hand, will fly this coming weekend to New Zealand for a tour that takes in the Blues, Chiefs, Rebels and Brumbies and which will define whether or not they have any chance at this year’s title.
Saturday’s nail-biting 35-33 win over the Lions showed the best and the worst of the Bulls, their uncanny ability to get it right at times on the attack and flummox their critics who believe they play a singular style and the worst in their scrum woes, inability to keep pressure for 80 and allowing the opposition back into the game.
But it was the attack that was the most successful, and most enterprising of the ventures, with the Bulls knowing they need this if they are going to be successful away from home.
While they have been positive about what awaits them on the trip, this week will first be used to get a number of players with niggling injuries right, and then ensuring the side head abroad in the best condition possible.
And once they’re there, the Bulls need every single point they can get.
Saturday’s captain and player-coach Victor Matfield is positive that the team can be successful, and maintains that the first step is getting on the plane with the right attitude and taking the game to the opposition.
Coach Frans Ludeke rated the first half as close to the “perfect attacking shape that we have been chasing” and Matfield believes the team need to continue attacking if they are to be successful on tour.
“We’ve seen this year that South African teams have won overseas. We just need to take it week for week, I know it sounds like a cliché,” Matfield said.
“One thing you have to do is go and play rugby there, you can’t be in a negative mindset there and try and survive. For one, it makes you your own worst enemy. So we’re going out there to be positive and play some good attacking rugby and hopefully the results will come your way.”
Matfield praised the attack firstly in the win, and then the comeback when the Lions stormed back to take the lead, saying the character shown to close out the match when things weren’t going their way was invaluable.
“I just think we have had one or two games we lost in the last minute. We started the game the way we wanted to play, and got the reward. In the second half we made a few mistakes and were really under pressure and I thought the guys just showed some great character. The guys who came off the bench made a big difference. It’s great for us as a team to go out there and fight back and show what we are capable of.
“When we went down with a point or two, we talked about who wants it the most now. We still have dreams in this competition and the guys stood up and played with a lot of heart. We are very happy about the character and the will to win.”
The veteran Bok, who led the side for a tournament record 84th time on Saturday, said it was a simple case of someone in the team needed to put their hands up if the Bulls were going to stop the slide.
“You need to get the momentum back somehow. We need someone to make a good hit, a good turnover…just something to lift the spirits,” Matfield said.
“Luckily that happened, and we believe in what we do and the guys stuck with it. We made three or four mistakes after halftime which gave them everything, so we just had to go back to the basics before we could start playing again.”
The Bulls will enjoy the time off and then head out on a tough trip in the right frame, knowing as they like to profess all too often, if they get their own game right they will be fine.
The Blues haven’t had the best of seasons but are a tricky team in Auckland, while traditionally the Chiefs match is an entertaining one between the two sides that results in high-scoring matches. The Rebels are possibly the toughest after beating the Chiefs this weekend with the Brumbies a rough banana peel at the end of a tour.
It isn’t impossible to think the Bulls can win all four if they continue to get their attacking shape right, but each will ask its own questions about a team that has been found wanting in areas this season.
How they react will ultimately determine how well they finish in this year’s competition, and if they have any chance of having a say in where the trophy resides.