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Aerial route or attack for Bulls in Dublin?


White spoke after the Dragons game about how the Welsh outfit employed spoiling tactics across the pitch and made every duel a contest, and they were particularly effective in slowing down the Bulls’ possession at the breakdown.

Kurt-Lee Arendse of the Bulls (centre) runs with the ball during the United Rugby Championship final match between South African teams the Stormers from Cape Town and Pretoria Bulls at Cape Town Stadium, in Cape Town, on June 18, 2022. File Picture: RODGER BOSCH, AFP

Ashfak Mohamed

For all the frustration that the Bulls had to deal with against the Dragons, Friday’s massive United Rugby Championship clash against Leinster in Dublin should provide the Pretoria side with a real opportunity to play their natural game.

But will going all out on attack and taking on the Leinster defence with ball in hand be the right way to go for Jake White’s team?

The fact that the Bulls managed to secure their fourth bonus-point try in the 82nd minute against the Dragons in Newport last Saturday was a great relief to White and his team, as it meant that they are in second place on the URC log.

They are on 45 points, four behind Leinster and one ahead of the Glasgow Warriors, so they will be gunning for top spot in Friday’s encounter at the RDS Arena in Dublin (9.35pm kick-off, SA time).

White spoke after the Dragons game about how the Welsh outfit employed spoiling tactics across the pitch and made every duel a contest, and they were particularly effective in slowing down the Bulls’ possession at the breakdown.

But there was a memorable 10-minute period at the start of the second half where suddenly the Bulls went into overdrive as their passes started to stick, the decision-making and execution were on point, and they scored a wonderful try by flank Mpilo Gumede, which involved a lovely chip from Willie le Roux and offload from Devon Williams.

They nearly scored another excellent try by prop Wilco Louw, which was again sparked by the electric Springbok wing Kurt-Lee Arendse, but it was ruled out for a forward pass from flyhalf Chris Smith.

“That’s exactly how we want to play. We’ve got some exciting backs there, and if we can keep the ball alive and can get go-forward ball and momentum and play quick ball, then guys like Kurt-Lee, Willie, Devon Williams and Canan Moodie can really do damage,” White said.

“That was a wonderful time, those 10 to 15 minutes, of how we wanted to play.

“But I’ve got to again say that they were very clever in how they got us sucked into not being able to play like that (for the whole game).

“What I’m really happy about is that we found a way to get through that game with problems that we hadn’t experienced before.

“It was the first time that we sort of had a team doing certain things to us – scrum time, line-out time, breakdown time – that we hadn’t experienced this year. So, it was good that we found a way … I think we probably took too long to find a way.

“It took us the whole of the first half and a bit of the second half to start working out what we needed to do.

“So, hopefully that will be a learning curve for us as well, so that next time we play against a team that do things we don’t expect or that are a bit different, the quicker we can adapt.”

But now they will face a very different team in Leinster, the perennial title contenders loaded with Irish internationals, who should return from Six Nations duty this week.

If the Bulls go toe-to-toe with coach Leo Cullen’s team, they will also free up opportunities for lethal attackers such as James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Jordan Larmour, although fullback Hugo Keenan may miss out due to injury.

Leinster also have a defence master in former Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber in their ranks, and he will know the Bulls strike-runners such as Le Roux, Arendse and Moodie inside out and devise a plan to try to stop them in their tracks.

So, the Bulls may opt to use the boot a bit more on Friday, especially with scrumhalf Embrose Papier’s kicking game having gone to another level this season.

Papier’s accurate box-kicks and flyhalf Johan Goosen’s big boot could provide the Bulls with good variety on attack, coupled with Le Roux and Williams’ left boots.

White was delighted with the bench’s impact against the Dragons as well, and with Arendse and Co also ready to strike with ball in hand, it shapes up to be a thrilling encounter in Dublin.

“What it (good game management) does prove is that we are getting better and older and wiser.

“And I suppose coaching-wise, by interchanging our group, it hasn’t made us weaker,” White said.

“In fact, the confidence you get now with guys coming off the bench that can finish off a game like that can only be a positive.

“It gives us confidence that if you are on the bench, you’ve got a job to do. Good teams have been good at getting bonus points at the end.

“If you look at the Stormers in the last couple of years, one thing they’ve done successfully is to manage to get a bonus point, even if it’s in the last two minutes of the game.

“It was a little bit of what has been the blueprint for the Stormers, we got out against the Dragons, and now you can see the value in that.

“It sends positive vibes through the team.”

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