Vodacom Bulls scrum coach, Werner Kruger sat with the media after the side’s bonus point victory over the Dragons in Newport, South of Wales.
The Pretoria herd scored four tries whilst the Dragons managed two to secure their first victory in 2023 as they take home five points after round 12 of the 2022/23 Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
This is what Kruger had to say, to the questions posed to him.
After three defeats, the team must have wondered what is next, what is around the corner?
Kruger: It is a great result on the road. I think Newport is always a tough place to come and play, they have kept all their opponents close and not a lot of them have come here and got all five points. So this is a very positive result for us, especially after the couple of weeks we just had with the Christmas games. Great start to the new year for us!
The Dragons made a huge comeback from 17-0 down, what was said at halftime to get the Vodacom Bulls back on track? (because their character in the second half was good.)
Kruger: I think we had a good start to the game and then all of a sudden they came back and I think that was due to our own lack exiting our half. We did not kick out one or two balls and they ended up scoring a try around the maul. Purely we just said we need to manage our territory a bit better and get out of our half.
Are you extremely pleased with the way the pack and the front five performed against the Dragons?
Kruger: We said before the game, myself and coach Russell (Winter), away from home – up front – it takes a special performance, especially upfront, so I am very glad and especially pleased to see the boys fronting up away from home where it’s not easy to get your mauls and scrums going, so it was a great evening for the boys and it is always good to see them going forward, may that continue.
I think this is a crucial week for us going forward, to back up what we did over the weekend.
Are there any new injuries to report?
Kruger: At the moment there are no real injuries or concerns, there is obviously a few sore bodies but there are no major injuries.
What was the disruption of losing Chris Smith before kick-off and not having Jake White at the stadium with the team for pre-match and halftime chats?
Kruger: It was an obvious disruption because we planned the whole week for everything with Jake and Chris but credit to the whole team for stepping up and taking little roles and making it all work on game day, especially for Johan (Goosen) stepping back to flyhalf having played there last week and primed for fullback this match, so there was a little reshuffle around but as I said, credit to the whole team for just switching on and staying focused on the task at hand.
Were there coaching messages coming through from Jake or between the rest of the coaching staff someone took charge or was there a combined effort from the coaching box?
Kruger: We definitely had a combined effort, Jake is obviously our leader and with him not being there, everyone stepped up for a combined effort from everyone, not just from the coaching team but the team as well.
Are Jake and Chris fine? Are there any other players struggling with illness?
Kruger: Thankfully it is just Jake (White) and Chris (Smith) but both of them are fine, they are going to be travelling back with us. The both of them are feeling a lot better this morning, we are loading them with food, especially Chris and they will continue with their recovery back in Pretoria. Hopefully, they will be all healthy and ready to return soon.
How bad was the wind and how did it affect the Vodacom Bulls’ kicking game?
Kruger: In the stadium, you could not feel the wind on the pitch or just behind in the stand but once you kicked and the ball travelled up above the stadium and the wind catches it, that is something that we have learnt as the Vodacom Bulls in our first time playing at Rodney Parade. So, (in future, we must) just to manage that wind a little bit better and maybe take a little bit off and kick a little bit closer because all of a sudden when you kick it and the ball goes just above the stadium, then the ball all of a sudden is held up by this gush of wind.
When we were kicking straight down, pole to pole, the wind wasn’t that big factor; so it almost felt as though it (wind) was hiding behind the stands a little.
What changed at scrum against the Dragons vs the two South African derbies, where did the success come from all of a sudden?
Kruger: The scrums we have been building now, from the start of the season, the boys are progressing well. I think in the derbies there is a different factor to it but I do think we scrummed well in Cape Town and definitely let ourselves down in Durban. We are a far better scrumming unit and forwards outlet than we put on display out there. This week with the travel, there wasn’t a lot of time to train, so it was more of a mental switch, taking us back to what makes us good. So, we just spoke about that. We obviously did not have enough time to train but we did what was necessary for us to turn it (scrumming) around and I am proud of the boys.
How much does the win count towards the morale of the team during the “month from hell”:
Kruger: You know it is one of those things, it is always going to be easier to get on the plane with a couple of points in the bag. It is definitely a tough month for us as the Vodacom Bulls because we are travelling – in the United Kingdom now, travelling back to Pretoria then France and the back to the United Kingdom, it is pretty much international travel every week, it is not just away games. So it is a tough month and this is why we are elated to start (the year) with five points away from home and it hopefully sets up for a good month to come.
Is the team that played (against the Dragons) close to the team that will be picked for the remainder of the month?
Kruger: Barring injuries we are going to have to keep everyone fresh, as mentioned earlier in the previous week. It is a tough month, being on the road and on planes for most of the time, so we are going to have to rotate the boys and try to keep everyone fresh. We are going to try and play as many of our players as possible throughout this coming block.
There is a guy like Lionel (Mapoe) still at home, so there is one or two guys that can still come in but like I said, we need to rotate everyone and get everyone fresh because four weeks on the road is not ideal.
Will the team send players for flu shots ahead of the planned travels back to Europe:
Kruger: Luckily, it is just Jake (White) and Chris (Smith) that are struggling. Obviously, it is a major disruption for us in a week, especially at the end of the week but luckily it is just two people in our squad. As a group, it is not a major concern but obviously, for those two, we want to get them healthy and get them ready to return soonest.
Overall, the team played more direct than the last few games, getting good line advantage which allowed the backs to do their magic. Is that the project the team wants to see going forward?
Kruger: Definitely, playing away from home, you are never going to get a good result if you are not physical and not playing direct, and I think we did that very well. In our carries, we were very direct and made some good yards, especially in defence as well; we managed to not give them any real go-forwards or any space to move. That is a real positive and that is something that we still need to build on and hopefully improve, to compete at the back end of the competition.
A word on Johan Goosen coming into flyhalf, coming in and playing like the old Johan we know?
Kruger: I think it is always going to be tough for any player to come back from a long-term injury but I think we are slowly starting to see him back at his best and that is the quality player we know. It is great to have a man of his experience step back into the flyhalf role and take charge of everything for us.
What is the travel schedule looking like and when do you hope to be back in Pretoria?
Kruger: So, we are packing the bus now and getting ready for another long road back. Travelling is never gonna make things easy, like there has been a lot of mention about it in the press, something that possibly needs to be addressed going forward; especially for us as South African sides, if we really want to compete in this European competition. We want to do well and that means we need to spend less time on the road, even though the games are away, there is a lot that can be better managed for us as players and player welfare within that. Hopefully we will be home Sunday afternoon, after 28 or so hours on the road.