Cape Town - They say elephants have long memories but even the world’s largest mammals may not best the memory of a front-row forward who has been shunted backwards and made to feel uncomfortable in his primary role of scrummaging.
At the same time, while confidence is a good thing when it comes to most aspects of life, when it has gone well for a scrumming unit against a certain opponent, sometimes a bit of amnesia can be a good thing. For the memory of the loser, and what he puts into redressing what went wrong previously, can quite literally turn him into a different animal next time around.
There in a nutshell you have one of the biggest challenges facing the Bulls when they travel to Newlands this weekend for the return Super Rugby derby against the Stormers. In many ways, and not necessarily just the scrumming, the first-round match between the two teams was a wake-up call for the Cape side, who believe they have applied remedies to the aspects of the game where they were caught out last time.
While the Stormers were caught by surprise by the Bulls in several areas on Easter Saturday, this time they know what to expect. And so they should, for even though the Bulls have lost a key member of their front-row to suspension, the scrumming of the Pretoria team, which was a weakness in previous seasons, has gone from strength to strength in recent weeks. The Stormers won't have forgotten in a hurry what the Bulls did to them in the lineouts and with their driving mauls either.
But the Stormers have a highly rated scrum and it will be in that area that they will be itching to make the biggest statement on Saturday. Stormers forwards coach Russell Winter worked quite hard at a press conference this week at trying to not make too much of a big deal about it, but he didn’t try to hide the fact that the first scrum of the Loftus clash, where the Stormers suffered the indignity of having their highly rated scrum destroyed, is burnt into the memory of his players.
“That first scrum at Loftus was something that we remember and definitely haven’t forgotten,” Winter told SuperSport.com.
“The Bulls’ desire showed with that first scrum and you are quite right to say that it set the tone for that game. Moments like that are what you hate when you are a player and you don’t forget them. But we are not going to change anything and we reckon we have a pretty good scrum ourselves. Even in that game at Loftus our scrumming got progressively better after that first setback.
“While we remember that scrum and have been working hard on ensuring there isn’t a repeat, for me personally there isn’t usually too much focus on the opposition and what has happened previously. Yes, we will try and use it for motivation but ultimately it is about us just getting our own game right.
“We know what is coming. A derby match against the Bulls is always tough. But what do is just focus on ourselves and what we do well. That doesn’t mean we are not motivated by what happened in the past and we know we should be in a better position on the log and are hurting about that. But we need to be motivated for every game because there is no easy game in this competition.”
When Winter says that the Stormers won’t be changing anything that is a reference to the make-up of the scrum as much as it is to any technicalities of scrumming. Springbok Frans Malherbe has now played two SuperSport Rugby Challenge games for Western Province but Winter doesn’t show any temptation to bring him back for the clash with his team’s fiercest rivals.
“We don’t want to rush Frans in at the deep end. If we give him time to come back at a comfortable pace then we give him a much better chance of being the Frans of old again,” said the Stormers forward coach.
“A tighthead who has had a neck injury has be managed. We know that at his best Frans is capable of being in any side. But we will manage him.”
That does not mean that the Stormers aren’t aware of the big workload carried by their other Springbok tighthead, Wilco Louw, so far this season and according to Winter that too is being managed. He also believes that the absence of Malherbe has led to a growth in the Stormers’ tighthead depth.
“We realised at the start of the year that we needed to manage Wilco’s workload. The workload that tighthead props experience in contact areas is very high and we are making sure we don’t overload Wilco. Fortunately, we have a 20-year-old (in Carlu Sadie) who came on and the team credited him with creating our last try against the Rebels.”
If the Bulls scrum subjected the Stormers to their biggest wake-up call at Loftus at the end of March, the lineout battle in that game plus the ease with which the Bulls mauled the Stormers wasn't far behind in the list of concerns.
Both Winter and hooker Ramone Samuels are confident they have remedied both problem areas.
“We have operated at 95 percent efficiency in the lineouts since the Bulls game,” said Samuels.
“We lost one ball against the Rebels this past weekend because of poor communication but that sort of stuff happens. We are happy with how we have progressed.”
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