The Vodacom Bulls might have evolved their game in recent years, but there is one area they will never shy away from and that’s the physical contact part of the game.
The Cell C Sharks’ forwards stepped up the physicality against the Rebels on the weekend to pressure the Australians and force them into making uncharacteristic mistakes that saw to their demise and they will be called on to repeat their efforts when they host the Pretoria side at JONSSON KINGS PARK in our return leg Vodacom Super Rugby clash on Saturday afternoon.
They worked really hard for each other, we defended well all over the park and we attacked well; we were aggressive,” explains Cell C Sharks assistant coach Nick Easter.
“Although we had a few problems early on with the lineouts, that was down to new combinations and new calls. What I was really pleased with was our composure and the fact that we backed the calls and our drills. We had a young lock pairing, they’re still learning the ropes and having to identify cues.
“You also have to give credit to the opposition, they read a couple of them.”
Identifying an area of concern and improving it is key, as is the way the players responded when things weren’t going their way.
“For me, it’s about improving in that area, but also how we react to it,” Easter adds. “The guys didn’t lose their heads, they didn’t start having a go at each other, they stuck with the process. That’s how you grow a team.”
But now it’s a new challenge against the old foe. Where did it go wrong in the previous game at Loftus?
“We didn’t really turn up,” he admits.
“Everyone is disappointed about that and it’s in the back of their minds, but this is three weeks later and it’s all about continuing the focus on ourselves and how we can improve. We didn’t look after the ball and ill-discipline cost us. That’s the bottom line.
“The Vodacom Bulls have shown, when they’ve won games, that they’re a pressure team; they like to pin you back in your half, Handre Pollard pulls the strings – they’ve got good leadership there – and they’ll force you into mistakes.”
Enough of the Vodacom Bulls, what of the Cell C Sharks?
“Our discipline, especially around the attack areas, has to be spot on. We also have to look after the ball better, there were a lot of unforced errors and balls spilt in contact which is unlike us.
“Let’s not forget that we got ourselves back in the game. At 27-14, we had a couple of visits into the danger area and with a little bit more belief and confidence, and cutting out the errors, it could have been a different ball game.
“But that was three weeks ago and a lot changes in a week of Vodacom Super Rugby. They will be smarting from what happened to them on the weekend and we know that they will turn up this week.”
Turning up is key and while you can work as hard as you like on the training pitch in the lead-up to the game, it’s all about having the right mindset on the day.
“Although you pay attention to the analysis part of the game, the emotional aspect is massive. Simply put, you have to turn up with the emotional intensity required to win South African derbies.”
After shipping a half-century of points to the Chiefs, the Vodacom Bulls will come to Durban with fire in their bellies, looking to atone for what happened against the Chiefs.
“We wouldn’t want it any other way,” Easter admits. “If they didn’t turn up with huge passion and fire, it might give us a false indication of where we’re at. We know the forwards have a heck of a battle on their hands, we just have to focus on the detail.”
Does he believe the Cell C Sharks forwards have a point to prove after what happened at Loftus three weeks ago?
“I think so. The players will be thinking about it and talking about it. As coaches, if we have to drive the process then there’s something wrong. In saying that, you have to move on. This is a different venue, different day and changes to the team.”