Bulls

Bulls ready to ‘do the job’

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The Bulls truly believe they are capable of beating any team in the world, but they are also humble enough to realise that they have won nothing yet and face one of the toughest hurdles yet when they meet the defending champions, the Crusaders, in the Super 14 semi-final in Pretoria on Saturday.

Bulls fly-half Derick Hougaard, speaking ahead of their showdown with the six-time Super Rugby champions, made it clear that the Bulls have put last week’s record (92-3) victory over the Reds behind them.

They are now focused on a much tougher assignment … the Crusaders.

“We have won nothing yet and we have achieved nothing yet – we still have two very important weeks ahead,” Hougaard said of the semi-final this week and a possible Final the following week.

“It is going to be a very tough game, we have to be very realistic about it,” he added.

“I just feel the fact that we are playing at home and the fact that we have very good form at present will assist us.

“The team truly believes we can beat any team in the world and it is a good position to be in. Everybody [in the team] knows that we have to keep our feet firmly on the ground and be humble.

“We still have to go out between those four white lines [on the field] and go do the job,” he said of what is shaping as the Bulls most important game since the inception of professional rugby.

The Bulls fly-half also dismissed the notion that they will revert to a conservative, safety first game in the play-offs.

“We certainly won’t hold back or become negative. We’ll go out, be positive and give it a full go for 80 minutes – only afterwards will we know if it was good enough”

Hougaard said the other important aspect of Saturday’s game is the fact that the Bulls have caught up with their New Zealand counterparts in terms of onfield experience.

“Yes, they are indeed a very experienced team, with players who has been there [in the semi-finals] before. At this stage it is a huge factor,” Hougaard said of the Crusaders.

“However, we also have a fair amount of experience, players who will play in their third Super 14 semi-final and have played in five Currie Cup finals.

“Yes, they do have a number of world class players who are the best in their respective positions in the world.

“But we are starting to move in that direction and we also have players who can measure up to the best in the world.

“It will be the guys who make the best decisions on the day.

“We will be up for it and we’ll go out there as a team and if we click it could be a great game.”

Hougaard, who is currently displaying some of the best form of his life – even better than when he first burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 19-year-old that set Currie Cup records, says he is having the time of his life.

“I’m really enjoying it, but we have also come a long way as a team.

“To play in such a wonderful team, with coaches like Heyneke Meyer and those guys who work every week to improve your game, it is just a great privilege to be able to do this.

“I always strive to be the perfect fly-half and play with the guys. However, being able to do it in such a great team just makes things so much easier.”

One of the aspects of Hougaard’s game which has been very noticeable, but which he has probably not been getting enough credit for is his defence.

The Bulls number 10 says he feels his defence has always been “good”, but admitted that defensive coach John McFarland has been doing a sterling job in this regard.

“At the end of the day you must leave the field knowing you did not let your teammates down. We go out there and give our best for 80 minutes – that is what the pride in being a Bull is all about.

“At this stage a lot of credit must go to John [McFarland], who did enormous work on defence.”

Hougaard feels the one player who is not getting the credit he deserves is flank Wikus van Heerden, who joined the Bulls from the Lions last year.

“A lot of credit must go to Wikus [van Heerden]. I think Wikus van Heerden this year has been unbelievable – both on defence and in turning over ball. He has been outstanding and I think he’s been one of the top flankers in the competition.”

While Hougaard was keen to pay tribute to all those around him, the coaching staff were quick to point out the value he has as a pivotal player in the team’s progress.

Australian import and backline coach Todd Louden said there have been some changes to Hougaard’s game, although it has to do with tweaking rather than major adjustments.

“The biggest thing is not over coaching someone like him,” Louden said of Hougaard.

“He analyses and he thinks a lot about the game. He’s a very astute thinker about the game, so it is a case of not over coaching him, but rather encouraging him.

“The biggest difference is that he is taking the ball up to the line a lot more. He is not being pushed back in the depths [deep pockets behind the pack] and he can kick from being flat as well.

“He has come along in leaps and bounds, but it has been mainly his doing. He’s been pushing himself and he’s been an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Hougaard, in turn, credits Louden for the changes to the Bulls’ approach this year.

“He is playing a huge role. He certainly brought new dimensions into my game … new aspects that I had to think about.

“The other aspect that played a big role is that the backs got far more responsibility and more freedom to play with the ball. They also got more opportunities to attack.

“I think with players like Wynand [Olivier], JP [Nel], Bryan [Habana], Akona [Ndungane], Roetsie [Johan Roets] and Jaco van der Westhuyzen, all of them, it is actually a great backline and to play with them has improved the strengths of the team.

“It allows us to have more variation and play the situations as it happens in the game.

“It just makes life so much easier as a fly-half if you have those alterative options.

“Yes, he [Louden] plays a big role, but as he also said, we have a long way to go yet, we are a long way off the complete product. We are working very hard and want to improve week in and week out,” Hougaard added.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital

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