Pretoria - While changes in personnel and coach Pote Human must get a lot of credit for the Bulls' success this season, former coach John Mitchell should be praised for changing the team's "mindset", Director of Rugby Alan Zondagh believes.
Zondagh came into the role after Mitchell departed to be England's defence coach and told SuperSport.com he believes the Kiwi did a lot to reignite the attacking play that the Bulls have been playing this year, with much success.
Zondagh said, sitting from the outside, it was clear the changes Mitchell brought in a year or so ago were paying off now.
"For me at that time last year, I was watching the game from the outside. The one thing John did from the outset, he changed the mindset of the players on how the game should be played. I didn't know what they were doing in training, how they were planning the week, I didn't see that," Zondagh explained.
"I could just see on the field there is a mindset change, and usually that doesn't happen so quickly. If you go into a new team and have a certain philosophy, it takes you a time to settle that team. I was impressed with that, that impressed me. How the hell did he get that right?!
Zondagh said it was key to continue building on those changes for the Bulls right now.
"For us to build on that, and you've seen the change... I've got the whole of the Cape supporting the Bulls lately. I've got long WhatsApp messages from people in the Cape and they all say they love the way the Bulls are playing rugby now. We are carrying on with that but we are not the finished product yet. It is a work in progress.
"We will still change and we are going to make more changes to the way we do things now, that suits us. Not what suits New Zealand, Crusaders or Saracens, we are going to do what suits us and the players we have. We will build on that, because John's mindset was a more creative mindset and maybe having a go. You have to have that in rugby.
"You can always go conservative, that's easy. You close the book. One message down there - close it up - and you can do it. Any robot can do it, you don't have to coach it. But you can't get a message down there and say, 'jeez boys run the ball and score a try... and they don't know how to do that... you have to teach them, and that is why I have done that thing where I explain to coaches what the game consists of."
Zondagh said one of the key developments to build on the changes Mitchell brought in was a skills department that would be on the same level as several other key departments in the team structure.
"That is why I've developed the skills department as one of my departments, same as strength and conditioning and the S&C departments because we always train a player physically to see he is more explosive, medically we assess you and we sort problems out.
"But in rugby we don't. So if a guy can't pass to his left, that skills department will know he can't pass properly, especially when he is under pressure. That will be sorted out. He will go for "treatment".
“We are going to spend time to make sure of it. Why can the Springbok hooker Marx, still in a Test, lose vital lineouts as a thrower - he is one of the best hookers in the world. But that is his Achilles heel, and everybody knows it. They are going to put pressure on him in the lineout and if he makes his first mistake, then it is mental now. Now you have to change that, but why can't that be sorted out, is it so difficult?
"We don't spend time on that. That is the one thing we will know that a player can't step to his left, doesn't catch a high ball properly or the scrumhalf is slow getting to the breakdown. And the way he passes off the ground is wrong, because it is the way he approaches the ball, it is a small little thing and you can sort it out like that. But then you sort it out.
"Or the No 8 is not channeling the ball properly, he is under pressure every time. Why is he under pressure? He is not doing it properly. It is small things."
Zondagh is hoping the skills department will pay dividends in the long run that will benefit not only the franchise but the Springboks as well.