Compared to Europe, the Pretoria side appears to be two different teams when playing at Loftus Versfeld and around South Africa.
In the previous season, they lost three of six games in the north, to Leinster, Connacht, and Edinburgh, while defeating Cardiff, Zebre, and then Leinster in a semi-final victory.
On the current tour, they’ve been to Glasgow and Munster, and they’ll be hoping to win on Friday at the Stadio Monigo (6.30pm SA time kickoff).
“It is tough to pinpoint because each site presents its own unique difficulties. This week, Bulls technical advisor John-William Meyer stated from Treviso, Italy, “On a 4G pitch, there is a significant increase in game tempo, whereas in South Africa we are used to a slightly slower game than what the European teams do on their pitches.”
“They are accustomed to playing in damp circumstances on both natural grass and 4G fields. They are accustomed to playing a really rapid game on those fields, something to which we have not yet adapted.
“However, based on the statistics of our most recent game against Munster, we are progressively making progress compared to last year’s trip.” It is a standard pitch in Treviso, comparable to what we have in South Africa. If we accept the challenge, this week’s training was quite different from last week’s. This temperature and humidity are nearly identical to those in South Africa.
In spite of this, Benetton is now playing the second-fastest game in the championship, behind only Leinster.
But Jake White will also be seeking for improved power and efficiency in the lineouts and breakdowns from his forwards, while Meyer noted that the kicking game required significant development.
Halfbacks Johan Goosen and Embrose Papier struggled to win territory or launch contestable kicks in the wind and wet in Limerick, and with Goosen unable to play this week owing to concussion, White may go to Morné Steyn to call the shots when he picks his team on Thursday.
Chris Smith is next in line, having been a reliable performer over the past few years, but he will not have good memories of his last trip to the Stadio Monigo, where he struggled in the Rainbow Cup final loss to Benetton.
“They will present us with a formidable challenge in the kicking game, an area in which we have struggled as of late… They will attempt to reveal the gap behind us, Meyer said.
“Other than that, however, they are quite physical and excellent defenders. Against Edinburgh, even the team’s younger players defeated a number of Test-level athletes. And they provide a great deal of variety to their approach – I’ve seen they have a handful of movements in the 22 that we haven’t seen from other teams.
Although we missed a few one-on-one tackles against Munster, no system is flawless in that regard. I believed that our one-on-one tackles were effective. We made the majority of our tackles (88 percent) despite not registering many dominant hits (tackle completion rate).
“What puts us under pressure is a small portion of our kicking game — kicking poorly at times, which puts pressure on our defensive structure. It’s when the kicks were too long or when the kicking play wasn’t executed as planned.”