Johannesburg – While South African rugby coaches generally scoff at the idea of employing a specialist fetcher flanker among their loose trio, the Bulls have come to appreciate the need for a player in the specialist role.
The Bulls' struggles at the breakdown area in the absence of opensider Deon Stegmann last week, in their hard-fought 36-26 victory against the Western Force, highlighted their need for a specialist 'ball terrier' during ruck time.
Ahead of their first match on tour against the Blues in Auckland on Sunday, Bulls captain Pierre Spies admitted the return of Stegmann to the starting XV could be a game changer at the breakdowns.
“There will already be a difference with Deon Stegmann being an opensider by nature,” Spies said.
“We had a reshuffled backrow against the Western Force and did not focus so much on the breakdown.
“This week we have addressed that in our preparations and a guy like Deon will really make a big difference. We will adapt and be more clinical when it comes to the breakdown.”
World Cup-winning former Springbok coach Jake White had famously said a 'fetcher' was what he called his son when he wanted a beer delivered from the fridge.
White, however, seemed to have changed his view in the debate as he employed new-found Australian breakdown specialist Michael Hooper with success last season.
The South African coach will break new ground when he fields two fetchers at the same time, with George Smith and David Pocock selected in his loose trio for the Brumbies' match against the Waratahs on Saturday.
Incumbent Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has also showed a reluctance to include a breakdown specialist in the national squad, and Cheetahs openside flank Heinrich Brussow, regarded as one of South Africa's best, fell out of favour last year.
Brussow, however, has been out of action for a long time due to injury and will make his return for the Cheetahs against the Highlanders in Invercargill on Saturday.
Meyer also seemed to backtrack on his view of fetchers when he called up England-based flanker Francois Louw for the Springboks' tour of Australasia in last year's Tri-Nations.
Meanwhile, after a dismal performance against the Force, Spies hoped an improved performance at the rucks would give them an extra sting against the Blues.
“While everyone should be more aware and clinical at the breakdown, when your reaction speed is better to the breakdown it makes your ball a bit quicker,” the Bulls captain said.
“Then you don't really have to use more numbers at the rucks.”
While the Bulls have arguably the toughest tour schedule, they would have taken some confidence from winning their first two matches in the competition.
“We know it is a long season and we are coming in with our own plans. We have a good team and we've had a good two weeks so far,” Spies said.
“We have to be ready to do what we need to do. Coming to Eden Park is never easy to win, and we haven't won here in a while, but for us it is a great motivation as a group.
“You have to play a full 80 minutes of quality rugby against the Blues, especially two weeks into the season.” – Sapa