Marais bullish about his side’s form

De­spite a re­cent wob­ble Bulls coach up­beat ahead of clash with Chee­tahs

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - VATA NGOB­ENI

IT HAS been a bit­ter­sweet start to this year’s Cur­rie Cup cam­paign for the Blue Bulls and they face an even tougher task this week when they host the Free State Chee­tahs.

Af­ter be­ing one of a few teams to en­joy a good start to pro­ceed­ings with two wins un­der their belt, against Gri­quas and the Golden Lions, the Bulls cam­paign came off the rails with two con­sec­u­tive losses, against the Sharks and Western Prov­ince.

The high-fly­ing Sharks dealt the Bulls a telling blow at Lof­tus Vers­feld on Wed­nes­day in what has been de­scribed as the week from hell, where the men from the cap­i­tal have played three games in seven days.

Then came the crip­pling blow on Sat­ur­day at the hands of Western Prov­ince as the Bulls put up a valiant sec­ond­half fight but it was not enough to pre­vent them from los­ing 45-34.

It was in Sat­ur­day’s de­feat that the Bulls’ con­trast­ing sea­son was laid bare as they looked dan­ger­ous with ball in hand, as was ev­i­dent in the sec­ond half where they man­aged to run in three tries with wing Ke­fentse Mahlo cross­ing the line twice.

But there is an ele­phant in the room that the Bulls will need to face up to be­fore they host the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Free State Chee­tahs on Sat­ur­day, and that is their de­fence and how cheaply they give away tries.

It was Prov­ince’s di­rect and cre­ative run­ning that of­ten saw the Bulls in a hud­dle un­der their poles in the first half, a frailty that has dogged them in all of their games thus far.

So por­ous were the Bulls on de­fence that they con­ceded the most tries in a game this sea­son, leak­ing in six, but their ram­pant sec­ond half at­tack lim­ited the op­po­si­tion’s time with pos­ses­sion, and only three points were con­ceded.

Bulls coach Nol­lis Marais is stand­ing by his play­ers in the hope they will fi­nally strike a bal­ance in the tough jug­gling act of at­tack and de­fence and com­ple­ment their ball-in-hand ap­proach with an equally solid per­for­mance with­out the ball.

“Our play­ers want to get bet­ter and they don’t want to lose,” Marais said af­ter Sat­ur­day’s de­feat at New­lands.

“We want to play good at­tack­ing rugby but we need to strike a bal­ance be­tween that and de­fence. It is a bit of a quiet chang­e­room at the mo­ment but we will get it right next week­end.”

With the Chee­tahs loom­ing large on the hori­zon and the Bulls still haunted by los­ing last year’s Cur­rie Cup fi­nal in Bloem­fontein, Marais would love noth­ing more for his side to show their met­tle against the very same side that de­nied them do­mes­tic sil­ver­ware nine months ago.

“Look, seven days in rugby is a long time.

“If you look at the Chee­tahs, they lost to Gri­quas who col­lected their sec­ond win in a week. We must make sure that we are up for it on Sat­ur­day or we will get a rugby les­son. With the Chee­tahs off to play PRO14 rugby they will be out to make sure they get a string of vic­to­ries un­der their belt so they have a good plat­form for the sec­ond round of the Cur­rie Cup.

“The Chee­tahs are a very dan­ger­ous side and they have lost only two or three guys from their Su­per Rugby side so if we aren’t at our best we could eas­ily take 50 points against them,” said Marais.

The game against the Chee­tahs kicks off at 2pm on Sat­ur­day. the IAAF World Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships for a while now.

But I vis­ited that chan­nel, in be­tween the hops from 203 to 204, to wit­ness Mo Farah fi­nally get­ting beaten as he bowed out from the track af­ter many years of dom­i­na­tion. Ditto for Usain Bolt’s sad de­par­ture into the sun­set.

Just as those two highly an­tic­i­pated ex­its went against the script, there was also noth­ing nor­mal about the PSL sea­son’s of­fi­cial open­ing match on Fri­day night when Bid­vest Wits hosted Golden Ar­rows as they be­gan the de­fence of their MTN8 ti­tle.

Four goals; a penalty shoot-out that went into sud­den death as well as six send­ing offs char­ac­terised Wits’ pas­sage to the semi-fi­nals. Bring on the new sea­son, al­right! If the clubs are go­ing to ap­proach the matches AND IT’S OVER: Jac­ques Ver­meulen of the Sharks scores what could be con­sid­ered the de­ci­sive try against the Lions at El­lis Park on Sat­ur­day. Rob­bie Coet­zee was sent off with a red card shortly af­ter, for strik­ing Ver­meulen in the head with his foot.

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