The truth is that adaptation will be key to any of the South African Super Rugby franchises making it to the play-offs of the new and embellished format of the competition.
The Bulls have been given little or no chance of making it past the pool stages of the competition, but their battle-hardened captain, Adriaan Strauss believes this could be the making of something special at Loftus Versfeld.
Strauss will lead a team with a large number of Super Rugby novices and only a handful of senior players who have plied their trade in the competition or at a higher level, but the enthusiasm and talent of the younger players could see the Bulls performing beyond expectation.
Even after being hit by an exodus at the end of last seaso, the second in as many years, players like Trevor Nyakane, Deon Stegmann, Lappies Labuschagne, Arno Botha, Rudy Paige, Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel and Bjorn Basson will help bring calm to the testosterone-filled changeroom at Loftus.
“It is great playing with a lot of youngsters because you always have a lot of energy. But it is important to channel that energy in the right direction,” Strauss said.
“What is great about working with youngsters is that they haven’t been intimidated by touring or by Super Rugby. They are excited to express themselves. We have a good balance of senior guys who have captained the team as well. Overall it is a young squad, but the coaching staff are doing well in channelling the energy to where we need it most.”
The inspirational Strauss, 30, is no stranger at leading young teams, as was the case during his seven-year stay in Bloemfontein with the Cheetahs. Strauss led an unfancied Cheetahs team to a Super Rugby play-off against the Brumbies three years ago and they came within a whisker of making it to the semi-finals.
As painful a memory that will be for Strauss, it is one of many along the way that will probably place him in better stead than any of the South African Super Rugby franchise captains.
Strauss will look to what went wrong in South African rugby’s darkest period when the Springboks lost to Argentina in Durban last year and the shock defeat to Japan in the Rugby World Cup opener as the key to overcoming Super Rugby debutants the Jaguars from Argentina and the Sunwolves from Japan.
“We are not going to take any team lightly, especially not (the Jaguars and Sunwolves). Last year was an eye-opener, even though we knew that Argentina and Japan were good rugby-playing nations and they earned their respect. We won’t be taking them lightly.”
The Bulls will also have to place much of their pre-season energy in their opening fixture of the campaign against old foes the Stormers in Cape Town as this will be the game that sets the tone for the remainder of their season.
“It is important to get a good start. We will see in the warm-up games (versus Cheetahs and Lions) where we are. It is a very long competition.
“Each game we play will be important and that has always been the challenge of Super Rugby. You need to be up for every game because you are playing against the best players in the world. Every single point you take or don’t take can mean the difference between going to the play-offs or not going,” Strauss said.
But as the Groot Krokodil so well put it: “We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We are not prophets. This is a step in the dark. We can only proceed into the future with faith.”
It is with faith that the Bulls will go into this year’s Super Rugby competition not just to make up the numbers, but to begin something special, something similar to what they did in 2007, 2009 and 2010 when they were crowned southern hemisphere champions.
“With the new teams from Argentina and Japan it is going to be exciting, but we won’t be going there to do sightseeing, we’ll be there to play rugby.
“In the past few years there have been changes and you need to adapt to that. It doesn’t matter whom you play in the competition, you can beat the No1 team and lose to the bottom team. We are preparing ourselves to achieve throughout the season. We will focus in the process.”
Original source: Taking the bulls by the horns