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GALWAY, Ireland – The reminder of everything the Vodacom Bulls need to stay focused on in their time up north has been right there in their hands. They’ve seen it at every training session they’ve had in the rain and cold these past few days, and as they prepare for their next Vodacom United Rugby Championship match against Connacht this Friday.

Every time they’ve picked up a rugby ball this week, it’s looked them right in the face. The Vodacom United Rugby Championship. The very name of the competition represents the philosophy of this team on their four-week tour.

It’s something the team’s sport psychologist, Dr Henning Gericke, has spent the past few days reminding the players of. “It’s visual. It’s right there on the ball for them to see,” he says.

Dr Gericke has broken down the name of the competition and given it tangible meaning in the minds of the players as they keep making the mental shift required for this new rugby environment.

“We start with the word United. That’s a reminder for us to stay united as a group, and to keep those connections we have as a team. When you’re on tour and playing away from home in a new environment, that’s a challenge. So it’s a reminder that the unity we have as a group is very important and special.

“For the word Rugby, the R also represents the Right Mindset. We need to have the right mindset to keep believing in our process. Just because we had one defeat against Leinster doesn’t mean we’re going to suddenly start doing everything differently. We stick to our process and we believe in it.

“And then for the word Championship, the C also represents Change. This competition is a change for us, and we need to be able to adapt as a team. That’s the most important for us. To be able to change according to the environment of different weather, playing in front of different crowds and even crowds at all which these players haven’t had at home, and then of course the different refereeing. We need to embrace the change.”

After the defeat against Leinster, Dr Gericke says he’s worked hard with the players to help them process that match within the right context. He even encouraged them to each take the time and go for a walk in a nearby forest, and to mentally process that game individually.

“This is not about making a big mental change as a team just because we lost that first game. It’s about just being mindful to keep our general focus that we had coming into this tour. We’re not looking to make wholesale changes. It’s about the ability to make certain key changes that will make us better and smarter rugby players. That’s the growth journey we’re on at the moment with this team. We’ve had our beginning – winning two Carling Currie Cups. Now we’re into the journey, and how we grow on this journey will determine our destiny as a team. The players’ ability to grow and learn on this tour is going to be important.”

– Michael Vlismas 

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