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Friday, January 13, 2006


Super 14: Bulls put on their poker faces


Everybody thinks they know what to expect from the Bulls, the top finishing South African team in the Super 12 tournament last year. But will the side, minus veteran captain Anton Leonard, produce something new in the inaugural Super 14 tournament this year or will it be much of the same?

Bulls assistant coach Mike Bayly wasn't giving too much away, but he did hint that the Pretoria-based franchise might have a few aces up their sleeves.

"You always got to have an element of surprise," Bayly told this website.

But then came the rider.

"However, if you move away from your strengths it is a big danger. The key is to find a good balance between the two," Bayly said.

So the Bulls' probably won't move too far away from their forward-orientated game, but it would still be interesting to see what new moves they will come up with.

The first indication of what the Bulls really have up their sleeves will come at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday, when they go up against neighbours the Cats with two teams in the first round of pre-season fixtures.

Bayly said they will make the trip across the Jukskei River to Johannesburg with two teams of fairly equal strength.

"We'll look at some combinations, but generally it is an exercise to ensure the players get into the swing of it," Bayly said.

He added that the focus would be more on how the teams perform, rather than what individuals do.

"We are very team based and team orientated. We look to see where and how the individuals fit into the it in the team setup.

"The most important is the team aspect of our game," he added.

Apart from their two-team raid on Johannesburg (against the Cats), the Bulls will head to Cape Town next week to face the Stormers and will then launch another two-pronged assault on the Sharks at Sun City on January 28.

It is a tall order, facing three of South Africa's top teams (also their S14 rivals) in three successive pre-season weekends.

But Bayly feels it is necessary to get some tough games under the belt in order to be in the best condition possible when the tournament proper starts.

"We have a break very early in the competition. We've got three very tough games [against Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in Round One, the Brumbies in Pretoria and Waratahs in Pretoria] before we have a break.

"It is vital that we have a good start and we don't want to have early-season jitters and struggle in our first game," Bayly said.

At least the Bulls have the advantage of a very settled team.

Apart from having lost a couple of senior players - veteran captain Anton Leonard having gone into retirement and the death of stalwart centre Ettienne Botha - the Bulls have very much the same combination that has done duty for them in the Super 12 and Currie Cup the past few years.

"Yes, it is a very big advantage to have such a settled combination," Bayly said. "If you have that continuity the players know the systems and you know what to expect."

The only remaining question is how newcomers like Dries Scholtz and Rudi Coetzee will slot into the set-up.

Scholtz is actually a former Bulls player who returned to the Kimberley region, where he grew up, for a few years and now decided to rejoin his former teammates in Pretoria. "He knows what we're all about," Bayly said.

"Rudi Coetzee is a very skillful player and he shouldn't have problems slotting in," he added.

"We'll look at some combinations, but generally it is an exercise to ensure the players get into the swing of it,"


And no matter what spin the media tries to put on these so-called warm-ups you can read absolutely nothing into them because firstly the players need to get intoi the swing of things. The coaches are still testing combinations and no player or coach wants a player out with an injry before a game is played in anger.

Only the Cats, Cheetahs and Stormers can expect hard games against the Spears.
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