CAPE TOWN - Having played for Ulster in Northern Ireland for five years, new Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee is well versed in what to expect from referees up north.
But his Bulls teammates won't, and he has urged them to adapt quickly in Saturday's Rainbow Cup final against Benetton in Treviso (6.15pm SA kickoff).
Even the South African players battled to adjust at the start of the Rainbow Cup SA, where there was extra emphasis on tackle heights. Yellow and red cards were dished out left, right and centre, even when players were tackled on their shoulders.
It is clear that the big hits have to be lower than that, with tackles on the chest even questionable as arms often slide up to the shoulder and neck area.
The Bulls arrived in Treviso on Tuesday, and were straight into their training, with Coetzee insisting that they are not on a “holiday trip” to Italy.
“One thing we've verified is that particularly in the high-tackle cases, they are really more cautious here in the northern hemisphere. So, I think our body height in the tackle has to be squeaky clean, because they are very quick (to penalise) when it's just a little above the top. That can change the whole game for you – especially in finals time, when you really want all your personnel on the field,” the loose forward said yesterday.
“Particularly around the breakdowns … it's a bit looser, a bit more open-minded and stuff. We have to adapt according to that, and stick to our structures and do what got us to the final.
“This is the difference between a competitor and a champion – you have to be able to adapt with that mindset. Every guy must take ownership in that role, make sure he does his homework and does what he needs to do.
“We have class coaches that can also help us with that, and to keep on reminding us what is at stake and what is needed to win this game. The final is 50-50 on the day, and small margins like that … you don't really want to be the cause that can cost you the final.”
Benetton topped the Rainbow Cup northern log, and boast a few South Africans in their line-up in the shape of captain and scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage (formerly from the Stormers), as well as locks Eli Snyman and Irné Herbst (both Bulls).
So, while the Pretoria outfit will look to gain forward dominance, Coetzee warned his team about the Italian side's attacking approach.
“They play a high-tempo game. With the ball-carriers, it's not just the normal ball-carries – they play a distribution game and put a quick tempo on the game. It's something that we will have to adapt to very quickly. Coming here in summer time, it's particularly hot here now, so the biggest thing is to adapt to those circumstances and get our structures right,” he said.
“They have a very good set-piece platform that they thrive on, and managed to beat sides in the past – if you take the Glasgow game, that basically turned their whole season around.
“It will be about who is the hungriest on the day, and we must use our opportunities as well. That is when young guys must become men as well.
“They will do their homework, and have a few former Bulls players in their camp and will know what to expect.
“It was a bit loose in the first half against the Sharks, but we just need to stay calm and back our strengths in terms of what brought us to the final.”