PRETORIA - Bulls boss John Mitchell cares little about the scoreboard and more about the improvements his team will take out of their warm-up matches ahead of the Super Rugby season.
In their first hit out of the year against the Sharks in Polokwane, the 31-14 score-line was by no means a true reflection of the hard toil they put in at the Peter Mokaba Stadium.
It was messy at times and riddled with individual and collective errors but there was a lot of food for thought and plenty of reasons for Mitchell to be optimistic as he watched a rather young and inexperienced Bulls team valiantly battle it out against two different Sharks teams.
Mitchell was impressed with some of the rugby on show, especially against the stature of the opposition but the former All Blacks coach will be looking for an even better performance when they come up against the Stormers in Wellington on Saturday.
All that Mitchell seeks in the build up to their opening game against the Hurricanes at Loftus is that his side apply themselves better in the face of stiff opposition.
“I don’t really focus on who we are playing, I focus more on ourselves,” Mitchell said. “It will be trial number two and it is important that we get better and learn from this performance. That is what warm-up matches are about, it has nothing to do with the scoreboard but actually how your game develops and learn to handle pressure. So the best thing is having stress because it is the only way that you learn.”
The Bulls did, though, manage to show some endeavour with ball in hand and could have easily run in more tries than the two that were scored by Manie Libbok and Jaco Visagie had they showed more patience with ball in hand and also executed better in the set-piece.
There will be alarm bells around their poor line-outs while the Sharks enjoyed a bit of an upper hand in the scrums even though the Bulls held their own most times.
“Yeah the line-out was a bit untidy and I thought the scrum wasn’t too bad, we had pressure on them in certain parts of the field as well,” said Mitchell. “We were impatient with the ball and we probably played more of the rugby but we fed them errors.
"We've just got to learn to be a bit more patient when we are building pressure with the ball. The second half was far too individual and disjointed. The fact that we didn’t stick to team structure we are better off getting that learning right now than in the competition."
Mitchell will again use the friendly against the Stormers as a barometer for where the rest of his squad are in terms of their pre-season preparations and won’t consider the team’s Springboks and players returning from Japan.
There will certainly be a change of playing personnel in the starting team with many of those who started on the bench given a chance to stake their claim in the side before the Bulls bring the curtain down on their pre-season programme with matches against the Jaguares and an internal game between their probable side, which will include the Springboks, and fringe players.
“The other issue around selection is to get all the new guys started in that first half and so there is more closure in their minds. We are still four weeks out from the competition and still 15 guys to play rugby. So next week some guys will start who finished this weekend so we have to make sure that everyone gets the balance of rugby and mentally prepared to start any game when ready.”
Following the game in Polokwane, the Bulls' only injury concerns are lock Aston Fortuin (shoulder) and Burger Odendaal (knock to the head).