Adriaan Strauss Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
PRETORIA - Bulls backline coach David Manuel has urged their beleaguered players to take ownership of their performances and ensure they bring about the turnaround the team need ahead of their Super Rugby clash against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.

The Bulls have endured their worst start to a Super Rugby season in over a decade after losing four of their five matches thus far and are rooted among the bottom teams in the South African conference.

Manuel said it will be up to the players to give off their best to ensure they get back to winning ways and bring down the curtain on a short but disastrous tour that has seen them sink to two successive defeats - to the Blues and Chiefs.

A former South African schools and provincial fullback, Manuel, revealed that there has been frank discussions between management and players about how they can fix the problems that have led to their demise and an understanding that at their best, the Bulls can certainly return to being on the right side of the scoreboard.

“There is a huge emphasis on ownership and players taking responsibility and keeping themselves accountable for their own standards and performances. They are professionals and leaders in their own right and they must make sure they bring it to the team context. There has been a huge chat about that and if everybody can do that and bring it to the game, we will be better off,” Manuel said from Tokyo on Tuesday.

As much as the players will have to put their best foot forward on Saturday, Manuel said management also have to shoulder some of the responsibility of turning the team’s fortunes around.

They have identified some of the areas of concern that has seen them sink to lows last seen in the early 2000s during Heyneke Meyer’s first tenure as Bulls boss.

“There’s been a lot of chats among the coaches who identified a couple of weaknesses and they've been working on them weekly. Obviously we’ve not seen the results and hopefully it will manifest itself against the Sunwolves. We are aware of what we need to work on to make sure the results are in our favour.”

The Bulls' fickle defence has been a major cause of concern but its failing stems from the team’s lack of dominance in the set-piece. And their sterile attack has contributed adversely to the Pretoria men being unable to capitalise on some of the opportunities they created against the Chiefs and the Blues.

As porous as the Bulls have been in the last quarter of their matches in New Zealand, their play has not been without any endeavour to try to play some decent rugby but they often find themselves making bad decisions in the final moments of having to land the fatal blow.

That bad decision-making, according to Manuel, has not only hindered them on attack but it has contributed largely to their failing on defence when placed under pressure in the last minutes as was evident in the game against the Chiefs.

“If you take the Blues game, we had a plan and applied it most of the game. Our challenge is the last 20 minutes of the game when we lack discipline. The big lesson we’ve learnt from the Chiefs clash is that the game is about inches and the New Zealand teams are good especially when you make a mistake and don’t have the discipline to play for 80 minutes. They will exploit it and capitalise on it.

“I think a bit of patience is needed from our side. We get over anxious and over excited and that leads to bad decisions with ball in hand.

“The Blues and Chiefs were just good in exploiting the mistakes we made. We’ve put a huge emphasis on conversion rate, making sure when we get there we get the points. We did that well against the Chiefs and that led to a good half where we led and once again the last 20 minutes we just succumbed to ill-discipline and got punished.

“We want to fix that against the Sunwolves and move on in the competition," he said.

Manuel said their focus will be on making sure they achieve success in their conversion rate and learn to make better decisions when it matters most.

However, he believes a lack of conditioning has nothing to do with how they have faded in the latter stages of their matches lately.

“No, I don’t think so (about a lack of conditioning contributing to fading off).

“For us as management, it is just a matter of concentration and being mature enough in our decision-making at the right times and right scenarios and situations. It definitely is not a fitness thing,” Manuel said.

The Star