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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Johan Goosen at fullback as Bulls try to break ‘penalty cycle’ against Scarlets

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Cape Town – Having lost 31-7 to Lyon last week, you wouldn’t think that the Bulls would have much confidence going into Friday night’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Scarlets in Llanelli (9.35pm SA time kickoff).

It was a nightmare at the Stade Gerland, where snow fell in bitterly cold conditions, and the Pretoria side were hammered in the scrums, at the breakdowns and in the physical battle.

And the few times when they actually put some moves together, there was an inevitable knock-on or turnover inside the Lyon half.

But assistant coach Chris Rossouw believes that his team’s previous visit to Wales a few weeks ago, when they trounced the Dragons 29-14, has given them the belief that they can produce a repeat performance at the Parc y Scarlets stadium on Friday.

Rossouw – in the absence of Jake White, who is recovering from an operation – brought back captain Ruan Nortje and a host of other first-choice players when naming his team on Thursday.

Lineout-jumping lock Nortje, No 8 Elrigh Louw and the front row of Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar and Mornay Smith all played off the bench against Lyon to give them a bit of a breather following a hectic schedule over the last two months.

They will hope to produce their best rugby tonight, as the Scarlets are on a hot streak themselves, having won five out of their last six matches.

The Bulls, though, will hope that if their forwards can establish dominance upfront and supply front-foot ball, a new-look backline will be able to strike despite the enforced absence of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie due to Springbok resting protocols.

Johan Goosen has been moved to fullback, Chris Smith comes in at flyhalf alongside Zak Burger at scrumhalf, Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe are back as the centres, and Stravino Jacobs joins David Kriel at wing.

“If you look at the last month, I think we are high on confidence. Obviously we slipped last week, for whatever reason. But against the Dragons – after coming off the losses against the Stormers, Sharks and Exeter – we bounced back against the Dragons, where I thought the guys were extremely great on the evening in terms of how they managed the game,” Rossouw said from Llanelli on Thursday.

“They generated the energy and confidence, and we took that into Exeter (at Loftus Versfeld). Last week we slipped, but I thought it was a great experience in being for the first time in France, and we rotated the squad.

“We all know that the Scarlets are on a high at the moment, but there is a nice energy in the camp and almost like a change of season for all of us.

“Confidence is important, but execution and being clinical on the night will be even more important.”

While Rossouw believes that Goosen and Jacobs can unlock the Scarlets defence with their kicking and running skills, the key to the Bulls victory will be to avoid being heavily penalised by Irish referee Andrew Brace.

“In the Lyon game, everybody is talking about the conditions – and it was cold – but the reality is that it was actually very good to play on. The biggest learning for us – and we have focused on that for the last month – is our discipline in the middle of the field, because that concedes territory and you have to defend your own tryline,” Rossouw said.

“If you don’t break that cycle, you will continue conceding penalties. Things we did well in that game is that we actually defended much better than it looks… But the problem was conceding one or two penalties in that zone, and then how are you going to break that cycle when you are on your own 22?

“Once you’ve conceded a penalty, there’s basically nothing you can do, because then you are in your own 22 – how are you going to break that cycle? Sometimes it’s not possible, based on whatever happens on the night.

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“But the other way to look at it is how are we going to manage that and improve as a team, and break that cycle?

“We got it right once or twice against Lyon, and the other times we didn’t. If we do that right, we will grow as a team.”

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Teams For Llanelli

Scarlets: 15 Johnny McNicholl 14 Steff Evans 13 Joe Roberts 12 Ioan Nicholas 11 Ryan Conbeer 10 Sam Costelow 9 Gareth Davies 8 Sione Kalamafoni 7 Dan Davis 6 Aaron Shingler (captain) 5 Sam Lousi 4 Vaea Fifita 3 Sam Wainwright 2 Daf Hughes 1 Kemsley Mathias.

Replacements: 16 Taylor Davies 17 Steff Thomas 18 Harri O’Connor 19 Morgan Jones 20 Carwyn Tuipulotu 21 Dane Blacker 22 Dan Jones 23 Eddie James.

Bulls: 15 Johan Goosen 14 David Kriel 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 Harold Vorster 11 Stravino Jacobs 10 Chris Smith 9 Zak Burger 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Cyle Brink 6 Marco van Staden 5 Ruan Nortje (captain) 4 Ruan Vermaak 3 Mornay Smith 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.

Replacements: 16 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Francois Klopper 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Nizaam Carr 21 Embrose Papier 22 Cornal Hendricks 23 Wandisile Simelane.


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