Loftus Versfeld used to be the home of 10-man rugby when Naas Botha was bossing the game in the 1970s/80s, and while the intervening years have seen that approach all but die out, Jake White’s arrival in Pretoria has seen the Bulls use their backline with greater effect than has been seen for many years.
But against the Lions in the opening round of the Rainbow Cup SA on Saturday, there is a possibility that the home side will be playing a more conservative brand of rugby.
Not only were the Bulls training for European conditions up until two weeks ago, but the Lions are also known to favour a more expansive, high-tempo game-plan.
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So it makes sense for the Bulls to force the Lions into a tight, physical contest that requires them to put their bodies on the line, and to force them back into their own territory with a strong kicking game.
“It’s definitely going to be a physical battle up front. We all know the Lions like to play with a lot of width,” said Bulls scrumhalf Embrose Papier.
“We have a great game-plan and if we stick to that then it will all work out, even though the Lions know exactly what we will bring.
“We kicked a lot on the Lions when we played them before and that’s something we can target because we have big wings that can contest.”
Having burst on the scene in 2018 as a potentially world-class scrumhalf, Papier’s fortunes took a dip in 2019 as he was left out of the Springbok squad. But the 24-year-old says the presence of Springbok icon Fourie du Preez at Loftus Versfeld has been helping him a lot.
In 2019 he seemed to be at the rear of the Bulls’ No 9 pecking order behind Ivan van Zyl and Andre Warner, but now, especially with Van Zyl heading to Saracens at the end of June, Papier could well be celebrating a return to the national squad given his resurgence in the last year.
“It’s been a dream to work with Fourie and my game management, passing and kicking have all improved a lot,” Papier said.
“I’m working very hard and I learn something new every day, and I still dream of playing for the Bokke. That’s definitely a goal.
“But if I play good rugby through the year then that will be rewarded, so I’m just taking it step by step.”