The Bulls, determined to atone for their disappointing performance this year, when they stumbled to a 10th place finish in the Super 14, have promised to come back a “bigger and better” outfit in 2009.
Coach Frans Ludeke, speaking from the Bulls’ pre-season training base in George, said the team has taken on board many lessons learnt from this year – when a slow start saw the 2007 Super 14 champions fail to build any momentum. Jan de Koning writes for www.rugby365.com.
There are the obvious personnel changes – Wikus van Heerden and Juandré Kruger having moved to England, while Victor Matfield is back from France.
But according to Ludeke the more significant changes will be in how they approach the game.
“We have identified our shortcomings, which cost us dearly in the Super 14 [this year],” he told rugby365.com during a break in training.
“We are laying the foundations now, by working very hard on our conditioning.
“One of the big problems was that we were not physical enough at the breakdown and we are working hard on rectifying that – making sure we dominate that aspect of the game,” Ludeke added.
Ludeke, like all coaches do, has winning the competition as his main goal – hoping to add a second Super Rugby title to the first they won in 2007, when they became the first South African team in the professional era to win this Southern Hemisphere showpiece.
Transvaal, winning the Super 10 competition back in 1993, was the first South African provincial team to win on the international stage, but those were the amateur days and before the formational of SANZAR.
Now, the Bulls are determined to recapture the Super 14 trophy from the seven-times champion Crusaders.
“Yes, everybody do want to win, but it is how we get there that is important,” Ludeke told this website.
“We have identified two areas of importance to us – scoring tries, to ensure we get as many bonus points as possible, and stopping the opposition from scoring.
“Bonus points are vital in the Super 14 – only three points separated positions two and six on the table this year.
“We don’t want the bounce of the ball to beat us. On a number of occasions we could have won with a bit more luck, but we want to go out there and create our own luck … score more tries.
“Then, we must also ensure that our defence is spot on,” the Bulls coach added.
While finality over the future of defence coach John McFarland is being sought – he defected to join long-time friend Heyneke Meyer at Leicester Tigers in England, in breach of his Bulls contract – Ludeke is working with the structures already in place.
“John [McFarland] is a World-class [defence] coach and the systems have been in place for the last five or six years. We are not going to deviate from that. We have observed some things that could be tweaked, but those will be minor changes,” Ludeke said.
Ludeke, who confirmed that there aren’t any serious injury concerns in the training squad in George, said he is happy with the personnel at his disposal.
Prop Gurthrö Steenkamp is still busy with rehabilitation after he picked up an ankle injury, but he will start training next Monday.
With Matfield back as captain, after his stint with Toulon earlier this year, the arrival of newcomers like Dries van Schalkwyk (from Boland) and Jaco Pretorius (from the Lions) will be a significant boost.
Namibian international Jacques Burger adds depth at loose forward in the absence of Wikus van Heerden, centre JP Nel returns from Japan and Springbok Wayne Julies – back after recovering from a career threatening knee injury – further bolsters the midfield resources.
* Meanwhile Polokwane will host its first Super 14 pre-season match on January 30, when the Bulls play the Cheetahs at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in a warm-up fixture.Tweet