Cape Town – Even though they went down for a fourth time in a row in their last match against the Stormers, the Bulls gained confidence in their scrum and that bodes well for Saturday’s United Rugby Championship (URC) showdown.
Tighthead prop Mornay Smith went full tilt against Springbok juggernaut Steven Kitshoff at the Cape Town Stadium, and was able to win a few penalties himself in the set-piece despite the 37-27 defeat.
The Bulls upped their physicality on that December 23 encounter, but were sucker-punched by a few quick tries after half-time, having gone into the break level at 13-13.
Now the Stormers won’t have Bok stalwarts Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe available for the return clash at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday (5.05pm kickoff), it presents Smith and the rest of the pack an ideal opportunity to lay a platform to halt their four-match losing streak to the Capetonians.
“That definitely gives us confidence. The last time, we did much better against them when it came to the scrums. But they are also good, world-class players,” Smith said yesterday, referring to the possible Stormers props for Saturday, Brok Harris and Neethling Fouche.
“Their whole front row is still very experienced … their whole pack has a lot of experience. They have a lot of guys like Ben-Jason Dixon (who is a bit older) in the second row.
“In the front row, they have Brok and Neethling, who you can’t turn a blind eye to, as they also have a lot of experience. We definitely have a chance to show what we’ve got there, but you can’t just push them to one side.”
Scrum coach Werner Kruger believes that the key factor for the Bulls will be to get their footwork right in the set-piece, especially if the expected wet weather makes conditions slippery underfoot.
“Scrum-wise, you’ve got to make sure that your feet are underneath you a little bit, and that the gap is not too big,” Kruger, a former Bok tighthead himself, said yesterday.
“The more movement there is, there is more of a chance of someone slipping and the scrum going down – and that’s pretty much the same in general play as well. In those types of conditions, you are not going to be able to throw 20 to 30-metre passes, so everything tightens up a bit if it’s that wet.
“But that’s still an unknown for us at the moment, as right now, it’s nice and sunny and fairly hot outside. There has been lots of rain over the last five to six days, so from a set-piece point of view, as little movement as possible, to try to keep your feet on the floor.”
Kruger felt that the Bulls have made great strides with their scrum this season, but that they need to avoid giving away penalties and making unforced errors to hand the Stormers momentum.
“We did take a lot of self-confidence out of that game (at Cape Town Stadium). We did a lot of things right in that game – and on the other side, also a lot of things wrong,” he said.
“Those five to 10 minutes just after halftime, where they scored those three quick tries, took the wind out of our sails. Any team that concede three tries at any stage of the game will battle to come back.
“We looked hard at those moments, and we will do our best to prevent another five to 10 minutes like that, and that everyone understands the plan thoroughly – and what each one’s role is within that plan.
“The difference in that game was the lapse in concentration after halftime, and those two kickoffs that they scored from.
“Of course you want to win, especially in a north-south derby. But that is not our focus. It’s rather about the game-plan that we are working on all week, and that we carry it out on Saturday.”