Cape Town - When the pressure became red-hot, the Bulls needed their top players to stand up and make the big plays to end their 10-match losing streak.
One of those players in last week’s 40-3 Currie Cup victory over Griquas was Embrose Papier.
Having played the last of his seven Springbok Tests in 2018, the nippy scrumhalf has had to be content with a bit-part role at Loftus Versfeld, even after the departure of Ivan van Zyl to Saracens.
Zak Burger has been the first-choice No 9, with Papier playing mainly off the bench. But after the 33-9 Champions Cup loss to Toulouse in France, coach Jake White changed things up a bit and handed Papier a rare start at Loftus last Friday, and it paid off handsomely.
The man from Clanwilliam on the Cape west coast varied his play smartly, showcasing his incredible speed around the fringes and quick service from the base, while also executing his kicking game to near perfection.
Papier scored a try as well and was the difference in attack for the Bulls as they scored six tries.
They will look to continue in that vein in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against Zebre at Ellis Park, where the Lions face Leinster at the later in the day.
“I thought we did very well on Friday night. As coach Jake said, if we keep the pressure on them and keep on squeezing them until they give up ... But we knew that Griquas would be a tough team, and I also think our defence was outstanding,” Papier said.
“We played in the right areas of the field. Our set-piece was really great on the night. We told ourselves before the game that we’ve played now against the best teams in the world, like Ulster and Toulouse. Now we have to make the step up and show Griquas really what it’s all about to play in the URC.
“I am enjoying my rugby a lot. In every game, try to go out and just give my best, but I think I can still become much better by training hard and just being better every day.
“It’s very important for a No 9 (to focus on the basics). The main thing is to be consistent, and then comes all the other small things that you can do – to do something flashy, or snipe or do something ‘wow’.
“Other than that, it is important to do your job – which is to be consistent, have good kicks, pass well and make the ball fast. We’ve worked hard on our kicking during the week.
“If you get quick ball and front-foot ball, it makes it so much easier for the halfbacks too … You have that freedom to do everything behind that big pack.”
Papier turns just 26 later in April, so there is more than enough time to play himself back into the Springbok set-up. Helping the Bulls reach the URC play-offs will go a long way in that regard, but while he is unlikely to make the World Cup squad at this stage, all he can do is produce top performances every week.
And he felt that the Bulls, despite their poor run of results over the last few months, have been getting better in recent matches.
“We worked well over the last two or three weeks on finding that balance in our play,” Papier said.
“The Bulls is a big union, and no player here wants to make mistakes or drag the union’s name through the mud. We are trying our best and are working very hard, and I just think that we as players have to take responsibility.”