Cape Town — The Bulls may boast a double breakdown threat in the shape of captain Marcell Coetzee and fellow Springbok Marco van Staden, but that doesn’t mean that they must chase after the loose ball non-stop in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against Glasgow Warriors.
The two flanks teamed up in last week’s 28-14 bonus-point win over Connacht at Loftus Versfeld, with Coetzee at No 6 and Van Staden at No 7, and breakdowns coach Nollis Marais felt that they need to improve their timing at the Scotstoun Stadium (8.35pm SA time kickoff) this weekend.
It didn’t help that Van Staden received a yellow card in the opening quarter for a dangerous tackle, while the Bulls also conceded several breakdown penalties on attack inside Connacht’s half.
The Pretoria side are wary of a Glasgow side that may have lost 32-17 to the Ospreys in Wales last week, but are unbeaten in their last seven matches at home.
They also have a South African coach in former Springbok centre Franco Smith — previously in charge of the Italian national team and the Cheetahs — who likes to utilise a ball-in-hand approach.
“We found out quickly how different the rules are interpreted by the refs over here (during last season’s tour of Europe), so we tried to adapt very quickly. But it took us a couple of games to get onto the side of the ref and to make sure that we made the right calls at the breakdown,” Marais said yesterday from Glasgow.
“We had a bit of a pre-season now, five or six weeks, and we implemented all those things that we learned from last year, and it’s going better at the moment.
“If you put in too many numbers at the breakdown, they will find you out on the edge and play around you — especially a side like Glasgow. You know Franco… he likes to play wide and tire out your forwards, and go around them at the end.
“So, if you’ve got too many numbers in the breakdown, he will expose you in the 15 metres in the wide rucks. That’s something we’ve worked very hard on with the players: knowing which breakdown to contest and which not.”
That is where the combination between Coetzee and Van Staden will be vital for Jake White’s team.
“They are two very good players, and it’s now just about channelling them into the right breakdowns – making sure they compete at the right breakdowns, and that they don’t get stuck, and we don’t commit too many numbers,” Marais said.
“But they are such experienced players, and having them on board — especially playing away, as Marcell played overseas — it helps us a lot.”
The Bulls enjoyed bonus-point wins at Loftus Versfeld over Edinburgh and Connacht over the last fortnight, but they can expect very different conditions in Scotland.
They already got a taste of the special Glasgow weather yesterday, where there was a 90 percent chance of rain forecast, and it is likely to be wet on Saturday night as well.
So, the visitors will have to box cleverly between holding onto the ball and their kicking game.
“It was rather funny today when we got to the training field, and the heavens decided to open up! It’s just rain and it’s wind… I think many of the guys today badly longed back for South Africa, and thought twice about playing rugby in Europe,” Marais said.
“It changes the situation in your game-plan: are you going to play ball-in-hand, or play more of a kicking game? I think the weather conditions will determine what way we go on Saturday night. It is not something we are really used to, but we have played overseas a few times now and are getting more familiar with it.
“Our approach has always been that we don’t want to just be a mauling side and a set-piece side — we also want to attack. And you see how we are playing at the moment, and we do both.
“We will see how the conditions allow us to play the game (against Glasgow). We have to adapt, and what I like in Jake’s philosophy is that if the set-piece doesn’t work for you, you have to do something else.
“And if the attack plan changes, in the sense of weather-wise, you have to have a good set-piece to attack. So, I think we are getting to a stage where we can do both, and that makes us very dangerous.”