Bulls look to tempo, heat and altitude as allies v Saracens

rugby04 December 2023 08:47| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Bulls team © Gallo Images

The heat will be on as the Investec Champions Cup opens with a scorcher at Loftus Versfeld this weekend when the Vodacom Bulls host Saracens If anything, it will be a warm welcome for the Premiership champions when they get to the searing Pretoria temperatures.

While there is still doubt whether England captain Owen Farrell will travel along with the side to Pretoria, after missing the game against Northampton over the weekend and after his announcement he is taking a break from international rugby to look after his own mental health, Saracens should still send one of their strongest line-ups.

But the heat is something that will hit like a hammer as they arrive in the capital fresh from seven-degree temperatures in London, and move into the mid-30s. Saturday’s forecast is for mid to high 30s for the game.

The heat, coupled with the altitude, could be the Bulls' biggest ally as they face one of the toughest sides in the competition and will want to exploit it by using a fast-paced game in the heat to tire out the English side.

Thunderstorms are forecast for the evening, and that could disrupt matters, but even if it rains, the temperature late evening is forecast to stay in the low to mid 20s, meaning a warm, balmy evening for some good rugby.

The Bulls are now patiently laying in wait as the English side need to cross hemispheres while they prepare at home.

“It is tough to play in Pretoria at altitude,” White said. “We have to make sure we use that as a home-ground advantage.”

Using that to their advantage is massive, because a trip to Lyon waits the week afterwards and then down to Cape Town for their north-south derby with the Stormers, a key game for the Bulls.

“I don’t need to tell you anything about Saracens. Half of the England team plays for Saracens. I am under no illusions how tough the next three weeks are going to be.”

White said the high-tempo game that downed the Sharks would be employed again, especially as it is the way the Bulls want to exploit their home-ground advantage.

“It is not just because the game is at altitude, which is an advantage, but we want to play like that. The way we want to play is that we want to be multi-skilled – being able to use forwards and backs. We don’t always want to outmuscle teams.

“I want us to play again where defensively we are sound, our set piece is sound and attacking-wise we are happy. We scored three tries from our first phase attack, so it wasn’t just power.

“It was using the scrum as an attacking platform.”

If they can get it right, it may be a long, hot evening for Saracens as they are introduced to one of the most intimidating grounds in world rugby.