Cape Town - The Bulls have just three wins out of nine matches in the United Rugby Championship, so next Friday’s showdown with Zebre in Parma is a must-win game.
Last weekend’s 29-22 defeat to the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld has ramped up the pressure on Jake White’s team to qualify for the playoffs.
Here are five areas the Bulls must fix to beat Zebre…
1 Get rid of Italy travel blues
The last time the Bulls flew to Italy, they were stunned by the unfancied Benetton in the Rainbow Cup final in Treviso last June. White’s team were overwhelmed by t`he physical intensity of the home side, and looked a yard off the pace.
White attributed most of the problems to a disrupted build-up, where they only arrived in Italy midweek, had lost players to the Springbok camp and were perhaps caught up in the ‘sights and sounds’ of Treviso and nearby Venice in the heart of the European summer.
There is no way that they can afford to make the same mistakes this time around, although Zebre are not as strong as Benetton, having lost all seven URC games this season.
2 Playmakers to spark attack
At the time of going to press, Morné Steyn was still awaiting his fate from the disciplinary hearing for a dangerous tackle on Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am in last weekend’s defeat.
With the uncertainty surrounding Steyn, Chris Smith may start at No 10 at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
But Smith is more of a kicker, and needs some help to spark the Bulls’ attack. That is where the likes of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cornal Hendricks have to play a bigger role.
White will hope that fullback Arendse is fully fit after missing the Sharks game with a shoulder issue, and the former Bok coach should also consider utilising Hendricks at inside centre, where he will be closer to the action, instead of right wing.
3 Concede fewer scrum penalties
The Bulls scrum is more than just hanging in at the set-piece, despite losing Trevor Nyakane to Racing 92 and Mornay Smith to injury.
But rightly or wrongly, they are still being blown up by the referee too often, as they are sometimes “painting the wrong picture” in the scrum.
If things aren’t going their way, the route-one approach of a quick heel to the No 8 should be the order of the day.
4 Adapt to the referee
White and the Bulls have had some serious gripes with some of the officiating from South African referees in the local derbies in recent weeks, particularly in the scrums, breakdowns and with how some officials allow the opposition to slow the game down.
Captain Marcell Coetzee needs to have a greater say with the person in charge, but the players also have to be sharp enough to adapt to the referee, especially with a European official likely to come with his own interpretations in the Zebre encounter.
5 Be decisive in opposition 22
In both recent defeats to the Stormers and Sharks, the Bulls had several entries into the opposition’s 22, but were unable to convert that territory and possession into points. The scrum problems may be affecting Coetzee’s options when the Bulls do have a penalty on attack, but the Pretoria side need to improve their execution with ball-in-hand and show greater patience on attack.