Bulls pack urged to ‘spare energy’ for Lions onslaught

Simphiwe Matanzima of the Vodacom Blue Bulls was named man of the match when playing against the DHL Western Province in the Currie Cup game played at the DHL Stadium in Cape Town

File. The Bulls will be looking for an improved performance from their pack when they take on the Lions in their United Rugby Championship encounter at Ellis Park on Saturday. Seen here: Simphiwe Matanzima with the ball. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 15, 2024


Mornay Smith turned 26 on January 30, which was just a few days after his beloved Bulls beat the Lions in a United Rugby Championship encounter at Loftus Versfeld.

So, the 30-28 victory was an ideal birthday present, but it wasn’t a happy outing for the Bulls pack, who conceded a few scrum penalties to the Lions.

In fact, a last-minute scrum penalty allowed Lions flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse to line up a long-range kick at goal for the win, but he wasn’t able to boot it over, and coach Jake White’s team survived.

The Lions front row of JP Smith, Jaco Visagie and Asenathi Ntlabakanye got the better of Bulls counterparts Simphiwe Matanzima, Akker van der Merwe and Smith on January 27.

Avoid a repeat

So, the Pretoria outfit will look to avoid a similar scenario in Saturday’s URC return fixture against the Lions at Ellis Park (3pm kick-off).

“We worked hard on the things we wanted to improve from the previous game, and what we can achieve together as a front row and a forwards pack,” Smith said on Wednesday, without going into the specifics.

“Like coach Jake said, we were a bit flat (in the last Lions game), so we looked at how we can perform on the day and spare our energy, and impose ourselves in those areas we are strong at a bit better.

“We work continuously on our scrums and keep at it. We worked especially hard last week on the things we did wrong before, so it will be a good game.”

Smith has had to contend with the arrival of powerful Springbok tighthead Wilco Louw from English club Harlequins this season, with the latter dominating opposition packs before getting injured.

But Smith welcomed the competition at Loftus, and he believes it has made him a better player.

“I feel that there is very healthy competition between us in the front row. We keep each other on our toes. We help each other where we can, because at the end of the day, it’s all about the team and what is best for the team,” he said.

“We learn a lot from each other, especially with the different combinations against each other – like Akker (van der Merwe, the hooker) scrums a bit differently to Grobbies (Johan Grobbelaar), who is a bit different to Jan-Hendrik (Wessels).

“We feed a lot off each other. In my position it’s me, Wilco, (Francois) Klopper, Khutha (Mchunu) ... We help each other where we can and play scenarios off each other, and it’s the same with the looseheads.

“I think I’ve grown much more as a person on and off the field. I see many more different scenarios as a player, and you are never too old to learn to better yourself ... I’m more positive than ever before.”

A win against Lions non-negotiable

The Bulls are fourth in the URC with 30 points, four behind leaders Leinster, and will take a step closer to a home quarter-final and even semi-final by beating the Lions on Saturday.

But they can’t allow the Johannesburg side back into the game in the second half, as happened at Loftus a few weeks ago.

“You don’t want to give teams points. We worked on it last week, and have spoken about it. It’s about having the right mindset, and you can’t afford to have soft moments, and must be switched on (all the time),” Smith said.

“We are in a good position, four points behind the leaders. We are definitely chasing high standards. In the previous URC seasons, we weren’t in such positions, so we are trying to build on it, keep our heads down and work towards making the play-offs.

“We have our eyes on the trophy, and trying to work hard to get there – we are playing to win it, not participate. Everybody’s heads are (switched) on, and we are on the right path.”