- Nollis Marais, the Bulls’ breakdown coach, has hailed the enduring quality of Duane Vermeulen as he spearheads the team’s charge at the breakdowns.
- Yet, the Springbok veteran has been brilliantly complemented by his two younger flank teammates, Marco van Staden and Elrigh Louw.
- Marais also notes that coping with the new law interpretations requires a team effort – from coaching to execution.
As the debate over refereeing of the breakdowns continue to rage in Super Rugby Unlocked, it’s little wonder that the Bulls are sitting top of the table – they’re the team adapting the best to it.
Last weekend’s comprehensive 39-6 mauling of the Stormers was a decent example of Jake White’s charges’ ability to manage different situations during matches, the first half being characterised by a few hiccups at the rucks, before dominating in the second.
Yet Nollis Marais, the Bulls’ breakdown guru, is under no illusion that the team’s cause in this regard is helped by the presence of World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen, the “Thor” of Loftus.
Nollis Marais (Gallo)
“Yeah, look, you don’t move ‘Thor’ do you,” said the genial former franchise head coach.
“When he’s on that field, you need at 15 of the opposition to move him. If Duane is at a breakdown then I know we’re going to get a penalty.”
As crude as it sounds, it’s exactly what it is.
The 34-year-old Springbok veteran has been the heart of the Bulls’ poaching and slowing efforts at the breakdowns, winning six turnovers in just three 204 minutes of action to date.
Hot on his heels though is his younger, diminutive but thoroughly influential teammate, Marco van Staden.
“Marco comes to sit with me every week to review clips from his games. He received a yellow card in the first game against Griquas because he chased every ruck,” said Marais.
Marco van Staden (Gallo)
“I told him then that I expected of him to make better reads and he’s been getting better weekly. He’s become so effective now stealing the ball. Marco’s been great.”
And then there’s Elrigh Louw, the 20-year-old classic blindside flanker that balances the equation of the Bulls loose trio.
Ironically, Marais played a big part in the former Junior Springbok coming to Loftus during the Southern Kings’ unexpected fire sale a few months back.
“Jake called me during lockdown and asked me about him. I was involved with the Under-19s in 2018 and when we played against him while he was still at the Cheetahs,” he said.
“Elrigh was brilliant in that game and I told Jake he’s a future prospect. He’s played PRO14 and the opportunity he’s been afforded here has been used superbly already.
“He’s a real talent. He’s still raw at 20 but it’s been excellent to work with him.”
However, as much as the Bulls’ trio of bruising flankers have been at the forefront of the Bulls’ breakdown charge, it’s undeniably been a team effort – from analysis to every player taking responsibility.
“There have been different interpretations at the breakdown and we do a lot of research into what the different referees want and try and prepare the players for that,” said Marais.
“We’re getting quite good guidelines from the referees who assist us, and I think the breakdown should just get better and better, and by the second half of the competition we should be certain of what we’re doing.”
The Bulls’ next encounter is against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Kick-off is at 19:00.