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Bulls ready for set-piece showdown

Tue, 09 Apr 2013 08:27
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They are competitive in all aspects of the game
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The Cheetahs may be the most exciting team in South Africa, but their five-match winning streak is based on sound set-piece play.

This is the view of Bulls coach Frans Ludeke, as he prepares his team for the arrival of South Africa's in-form franchise in Pretoria on Saturday.

The Cheetahs - despite losing their opening matches against the SA conference-leading Sharks and table-topping Chiefs - have been like a runaway train for the past month.

Victories over the Highlanders, Waratahs and Western Force, saw them grab a franchise record 12 points on tour. Then they toppled the hapless Rebels in a bonus-point victory and broke the Stormers' hearts in their last two home games.

The Bulls have taken note and with the luxury of a bye this past weekend will be refreshed for what is often one of the most intriguing SA derbies.

The Bulls mentor, Ludeke, was full of praise for the hard work of the Cheetahs coaching staff and players, but felt that if his team can get the edge in the set pieces they can end the Cheetahs' run.

"They are playing very well and are competitive in all aspects of the game," Ludeke told this website in an interview, adding: Their scrum is impressive, just look at that last scrum [against the Stormers] at the weekend - it was immense pressure they applied.

"We all know how dangerous they are from broken play, so you will have to be very disciplined. They are very effective on the counter.

"In general they are a rounded team - look at the tries they scored on tour.

"Credit must go to Naka [Drotské], Os [Du Randt], Hawies [Fourie] and the others that work so hard. The players also, you can see they are playing good rugby and playing with confidence."

The scrums have been one of the Bulls' biggest headaches, with penalties aplenty in recent games. And given the Cheetahs' strong scrumming - with two-time World Cup winner Os du Randt as the mentor - the Bulls know they are in for a tough day at the office.

"We are certainly working on that," Ludeke said, when asked about the number of penalties his team conceded at set-piece time in recent weeks.

"The first few games of the season [against the Stormers and Force] we stood our ground well in that facet.

"We went on tour and against the Blues we also had no problems.

"Looking at the last three games [losses to the Crusaders, Reds and Brumbies] technically we could have been much better. We take responsibility for that [the penalties].

"We are proud of our scrum performances and it is not something the forwards take lightly.

"It [the scrum] is a good platform, as everything starts up front, it all starts with the tight forwards.

"We are looking forward this weekend to produce a much improve performance, not just in the scrums but all aspects - all the set-piece aspects of the game."

The Bulls mentor admitted that most teams are placing more emphasis on set pieces in Super Rugby than has been the case in years gone by.

"The set pieces create a good platform for you," Ludeke said, adding: "[It helps] to get out of your own half if you are under pressure, and on attack use it to apply pressure on the opposition and launch a strong attack [from a set piece].

"It is showing more than ever, even in Super Rugby - which in the past has been a competition where the ball has always been in play and always kept alive.

"Throughout the competition, the teams with a solid tight five, players who stand their ground up front and lay a good platform for the team, is invaluable.

"Those are the teams that usual get the result - it still all starts up front."

Ludeke felt last week's bye came at an opportune time, after an arduous tour in which a win over the Blues was followed by defeats to the Crusaders, Reds and Brumbies. The last two, in particular, were heartbreaking - with a dubious penalty against the Brumbies robbing the Bulls of a deserved draw and possibly even a win.

"It was necessary to get away and get some balance," the coach said.

"Now we are fresh and looking forward to the next stage.

"It [the bye] gives you a chance to get back to your family, think creatively about things and get some perspective.

"Mentally it allows you to recover, especially after the tour."

By Jan de Koning

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