The two-time defending Currie Cup champions will not take anything for granted in the 2004 season, says coach Heyneke Meyer and his side’s historical Georgia tour will kick-start their onslaught for this year’s honours.
“The purpose of the tour is threefold,” explains Meyer. “Firstly, we are proud to be the first South African side on an official tour to the country. We are not just looking at promoting the Blue Bulls brand overseas, but we also want to develop rugby in this developing country and we will be staging a few clinics in our time there.
“Secondly, we are combining players from Super 12 and Vodacom Cup duty and this tour is very much a teambuilding exercise and to raise the already high team spirit levels.
“Thirdly, I want everyone in the squad to settle into our game plan.” Some players have the benefit of having played under Meyer in the Vodacom Cup, but others have not enjoyed the benefit of his coaching since 2002. After the Bulls won the Currie Cup two years ago, the players then played Super 12 under Rudy Joubert and thereafter the World Cup Springboks were withdrawn from the Currie Cup. The tour provides the perfect opportunity for Meyer to refresh everyone’s memory as far as Blue Bulls structure is concerned.
“There have been quite a few disruptions as far as injuries and national call-ups are concerned,” says Meyer, “but this is compensated for by the enthusiasm of the current crop.
“There is also no danger of complacency after being champions over the past two seasons. All the players have the utmost respect for the Currie Cup and they are really looking forward to the competition, which makes my job a lot easier.
“Despite the injuries, all the players are slotting in really well, and here I have to commend the structures within the union. All our junior teams are coached and conditioned in the same way as our senior side and that is why our young players have never found it hard to make the step up.”
This becomes apparent when one considers that a player like Derick Hougaard, who is a member of the SA Under-21 squad, has already been an integral part of the Blue Bulls setup for the past two seasons. With eight Blue Bulls in this squad, Meyer will only be able to work with his full squad one week before the start of the Currie Cup. Because everyone is familiar with the structure, Meyer is not too concerned that these new players will have problems adapting.
Meyer still believes that the Blue Bulls are not favourites to win this year’s Currie Cup, despite their track record. “If you look at the Super 12, the Bulls lost to the Stormers and the Sharks, and the Cats ran them close. A side like the Sharks also has the benefit of having been together the whole time without many disruptions.
“Not being the favourites suits us. We have been performing well with the underdog tag. There will be no difference in our approach to this season. We are not defending the Currie Cup, we want to attack.
“Preparation and conditioning will be very important, because the Currie Cup will be contested over two rounds and we have been working very hard at this from the end of the Super 12 and Vodacom Cup. I was not too happy with everyone’s physical condition at the start of our training sessions, because the type of game we want to play requires everyone to be super fit.
“The conditioning is already looking a lot better and by the time we return from Georgia, we should be close to our best. The other points of focus for the tour will be the drilling in of our game plan and our play between phases.
“As far as possession is concerned we have to learn to regain it as soon as possible and to apply it to create tries.
“Our defence will also enjoy attention. A team’s character is revealed in its defence. Currently, it is not up to scratch. On the tour, the players will have the opportunity to prove their commitment.”