The Bulls have discovered that rugby in the Northern Hemisphere is all about tempo, reacting quickly to breakdowns and ensuring you cover the whole field in defence, and Edinburgh, their United Rugby Championship opponents on Saturday, will put their learnings to a comprehensive examination at Murrayfield.
Edinburgh enjoy playing at pace and keeping ball-in-hand, always looking to get their strike-runners involved. But, as the Stormers showed in drawing with them last weekend despite conceding two tries in the first six minutes, defending with physicality, commitment and alacrity can frustrate them.
“Edinburgh want to speed up the game and throw the ball around, so it’s all about covering the field quicker,” Bulls backline star Cornal Hendricks said on their defensive priorities against the side coached by Scotland’s most-capped scrumhalf, Mike Blair.
“They take quick-taps as well, so whenever they have ball-in-hand then our player 10 metres back must react by going for the guy with the ball.
“We have to organise our defence to spread, so it’s important to scan properly and be aware of the whole width of the field. They don’t want to go through you, they want to go around you.”
Bulls captain and flank Marcell Coetzee also pointed to the speed at which Edinburgh want to play, but singled out the breakdowns as being vital.
“I think sides over here have identified taking on the South African teams with tempo, which we aren’t really used to back home. Although Edinburgh have a very good set-piece foundation and kicking game as well, they have brought in a lot of tempo,” Coetzee said.
“That’s what Gregor Townsend (Scotland head coach) is trying to implement and we have to adapt and shut it down. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a breakdown battle.
“It’s all about reaction speed and we tended to turn over our ball on the second phase. We need to be quicker to commit and read the breakdowns better. You’ve got to work on your second, third, fourth phase as well.”
This was obviously something the Bulls got right in the second half of last weekend’s win over Cardiff Blues, which sealed the most impressive of comebacks from 16-3 down.
“As soon as we were able to get time and space, that’s when the breakdowns changed for us. And as soon as we got front-foot ball, got our carries going, then we put them under pressure, which led to penalties for us,” Coetzee added.
That sounds like it has the makings of a game-plan to use against Edinburgh as well, sucking them into a collisions battle of which they probably don’t want to be part.