On the surface, the Bulls should have no trouble defeating the Glasgow Warriors in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship (URC) match (8.35pm kick-off).
The Pretoria side has started the season unblemished after reaching the final in an astonishing second half despite losing five of their first six matches.
Jake White’s team has already defeated the Lions (away), Edinburgh, and Connacht, and has two bonus points for scoring four tries.
Glasgow, on the other hand, has lost two of their three games, falling 33-11 to Benetton away, 52-24 to Cardiff in Scotland, and 32-17 to the Ospreys in Wales last weekend.
The victory over Cardiff was their sole victory in their last seven URC games, which included a 76-14 thrashing at the hands of Leinster in last season’s Dublin quarter-final.
Another aspect in the visitors’ favor: the Bulls defeated Glasgow at Loftus Versfeld last April by a score of 29-17.
However, White’s team has been far from flawless this season. They should have lost in Edinburgh since the Scottish team dominated for long periods of the game and would have won if fullback Henry Immelman had converted a late penalty.
They were understandably error-prone in their first match against the Lions, and tried regular centre Wandisile Simelane at fullback with varying degrees of success.
Then, against Connacht last week, they received three yellow cards – Marco van Staden, Johan Goosen, and Jan-Hendrik Wessels – and are rated 15th in the URC in terms of discipline, having handed away 42 penalties (the second-most) and seven scrum offences (fifth-most).
Their defense hasn’t been great either, with White overseeing the implementation of a new system following the departure of defence coach Joey Mongalo to the Sharks. They are ranked second-to-last in tackle success and fifth-worst in turnovers lost, with 31.
“That was one of the topics we were just talking about in the locker room… “It’s pointless to talk about it; it has to be an action, a learning from the group,” White remarked of the poor discipline after the Connacht encounter.
“And it can’t be led solely by the (coaching) staff.” It must be driven from within by the players. The captain (Marcell Coetzee) now told them that we are going to work on those things, not simply speak about them.
“And that discipline will be driven by the players and the group.” We’re making things more difficult for ourselves by playing against these opponents with 14 men, even for 10 minutes. It’s too much to ask for 30 minutes.”
Despite their terrible form in the URC, Glasgow have a decent record at Scotstoun Stadium, where they only lost once last season – 31-15 against Leinster in October.
They defeated the Sharks, Lions, Dragons, Munster, Edinburgh, Ospreys, Benetton, and Zebre, and have been strengthened this week by the return from injury of lock Lewis Bean, loose forward Matt Fagerson, and former Lions prop Nathan McBeth.
However, they will be without captain and wing Kyle Steyn (hamstring) and loose forward Jack Dempsey (rib), as well as longer-term injured players Allan Dell (calf), Huw Jones (back), Ally Miller (back), and Rory Darge (ankle).
They do, however, have a few South Africans in their roster, including former Bulls lock Sintu Manjezi, ex-Stormers prop Oli Kebble, and former Cheetahs lock JP du Preez.
So, Saturday’s game is a potential banana peel that the Bulls must avoid.