PRETORIA – There was always going to be something suspicious about the Lions naming their team early in the week, trying untested positional changes and going to ground in the week leading up to the most anticipated Super Rugby derby in a long time.
But Bulls coach John Mitchell has seen through the ambush awaiting at Loftus Versfeld tomorrow and is refusing to call their bluff.
The Lions played their hand first early in the week making a strange switch of Springbok Franco Mostert from lock to flank instead of calling on a genuine loose forward. Then they went into hiding suggesting that they will be coming to the capital with an element of surprise. The Bulls, on the other hand, are hoping to go about their business as usual.
And that new usual at Loftus is all about team cohesion and consistency in results which they will seek to replicate last week’s surprise win over the Hurricanes.
In fronting up the same troops as last weekend, Mitchell is hoping for more of the same while taking heed of the canny tactics their opponents have employed even before the game has kicked off.
“The Lions also have an element of surprise and that is Swys’ way. They will continue to be innovative so we will need to adapt because I am sure what we’ve planned for there will be some changes or some surprises as well,” said Mitchell yesterday.
Such is Mitchell’s conviction to be loyal to performance that he has opted to go without Springbok Warrick Gelant, who pulled out of the team last week because of a knee injury, giving little known Divan Rossouw more time on the park at fullback.
Captain Burger Odendaal has seemingly recovered of the rib injury that had threatened his participation tomorrow’s derby and that would have been a massive blow for a side running low on experienced and combative midfielders.
“I think it is really important to put the responsibility back on the group that played last week. Firstly they got the job done, secondly it built confidence and thirdly we are in the process of building team cohesion which is a critical intangible tha tis hard to get but you get it through being consistent with your people,” Mitchell said.
As much as the Bulls say they are prepared for an ambush, they will need to dictate terms on the field if they are to take the sting out of the Lions element of surprise.
For most parts of last week’s 21-19 victory over the Hurricanes, it was the Bulls that determined the pace of proceedings and much of the damage was done with ball in hand.
Odendaal is wary not to bask too much in the confidence boosting win of last week but rather to build on the good and improve on the areas they weren’t so good at.
“They always have the thought that if they lift the tempo in the game they are going to have us. We will go with the same mentality of wanting to do all the play and we want to play the game at our tempo and for them to adjust.”