Brenden Nel - SuperSport.com
Pretoria - Bulls coach Nollis Marais is aware of the mammoth task awaiting his side at a hostile Newlands this weekend, but believes they are ready to bury their ghosts of playing in Cape Town against the Stormers.
The Bulls haven’t won in Cape Town since 2011 in Super Rugby and it is a record that has become a part of their firm and intense focus going into the opening round of the competition.
Add to that their opening two weeks are against teams in their conference – Stormers and the Cheetahs – and the Bulls know that if both these away games can be won, it will be a massive boost to their hopes of making the playoffs this year.
But there is still a lot of work that abounds for the Bulls – especially at the breakdown where their recent trip to Brisbane was a wake up call for them in terms of what will be expected in the competition and especially breakdown intensity.
“The New Zealand sides are way better than us on the breakdown intensity. It’s something we took out of that match, if we want to beat them, then we need to get the breakdown intensity right,” coach Nollis Marais explained.
“We learnt a lot from them. I spoke to Dave Rennie as well and there are a lot of small things we need to fix to get much better if we want to compete against them.”
Still, while the Bulls have progressed under Marais and are playing significantly different to the sides of the past, they still aren’t at the level they want to be, and Marais knows all too well that the breakdown is a key area to getting the other things right.
“There is definitely progress but we aren’t exactly where we want to be. There are definitely aspects at the breakdown, for instance, where we need to improve,” he added.
“You can see there is a totally different intensity with the New Zealand teams, we have tried to simulate it, but we’re still not quite there. It was never such a big focus for us because we had big ball carriers in the past and we got over the advantage line with them. Now that everyone is the same size, then those defensive aspects need to be better, and the smaller things need to be better.
“We are a lot better at those aspects, and we saw it against the Chiefs, we had them at times, but we need it consistently, and not 30 minutes of the game. That is what we need to work hard on at the moment.”
Coaches, of course, are never happy with the amount of preparation they get, but Marais believes his side are ready for the Stormers.
“I’d like another month, another few warm-up games but we are ready for the Stormers,” he said.
“It’s getting to that situation now where players don’t want to train anymore, they want to play. I could see against the Chiefs, that night when we went out there, they went out too flat in the 80 minutes.
“They need to play now, its been a long pre-season and they are raring to go. From a coaching side we always want more preparation but the guys are raring to go.
“I think the expectations on the Bulls will always be great, especially because we have a number of players back that we didn’t have last year. Handre, Jacques Potgieter are both back and there will be an expectation with that.
“And yes, you do tend to put pressure on yourself to do well. Last year we didn’t make the playoffs and we desperately want to make them this year.
“The next two games that we play against the Stormers and Cheetahs will be vitally important. There is a big expectation not just from the fans, but from us as the management.
“We expect big things from the team.”
The Bulls moment of truth comes on Saturday where a hostile Newlands waits for them.
Read the story on SuperSport.com.