Vodacom Blue Bulls captain Deon Stegmann said his team is starting to believe they can still be strong contenders for the Absa Currie Cup trophy after they warmed up for the semi-finals with a 46-12 victory over GWK Griquas at Loftus Versfeld at the weekend.
The Bulls finished the round-robin phase of the competition in fourth place and will therefore have to travel down to Cape Town to take on table-topping Western Province in their semi-final next Saturday. The Bulls won just six of their 10 regular-season games, but three of those have been in the last three weeks and there is a definite sense of late momentum building at Loftus Versfeld after a poor start to the campaign.
“All the criticism has pulled the guys together and we are really starting to believe,” Stegmann said after the victory over Griquas. “We’ve become a band of brothers, we have each other’s backs, and it’s a good feeling to have everything come together now at the end of the competition.”
The Bulls suffered a blow at the weekend with hard-hitting inside centre Burger Odendaal, probably their find of the season, suffering a suspected broken arm. It might just work in their favour, however, with Handre Pollard possibly moving into the number 12 jersey and the Bulls fielding two tactical kickers in him and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter in what will surely be a tense, tight knockout game against Western Province.
“Unfortunately, Burger’s injury looks serious, maybe a broken arm. He’s made huge steps this year, he’s a real threat on the gain-line and he gives the forwards a lot of momentum. He’s also very creative, it’s what you need in midfield,” coach Frans Ludeke said before confirming that either Pollard or regular fullback Ulrich Beyers, who moved to inside centre during the game, will take Odendaal’s place for the semi-final because Dries Swanepoel is injured.
With wing Bjorn Basson returning to form with a sparkling all-round display against Griquas that included scoring a hat-trick, Western Province should be warned that the Bulls have some dangerous weapons for knockout rugby.
Basson is the best player in the air in South Africa and with both Pollard and Potgieter possibly playing, there is the threat of an aerial bombardment for the hosts to deal with, and their record in the past in that facet of play is not all that flash.
Pollard is also a tremendous threat with ball in hand, as he showed again in the final quarter against Griquas, while the Bulls pack is in great form at the set-pieces and is always difficult to stop once their fearsome ball-carriers get on the front foot.
“That we were able to come back from a backs-to-the-wall situation this season reflects well on the leadership. This was our final run before the playoffs and we created a lot of opportunities, even though there were lots of mistakes, but that’s just eagerness by the players. As we’ve seen, if we just stay patient, the results will come.
“I was impressed with Deon and how he mixed things up on attack, we were able to keep Griquas guessing on the gain-line and we got good momentum there. That last try, when Pollard chipped over the top, was something different and that’s exactly what you need.
“Plus Bjorn had a great game, he showed how dangerous he is in broken field. He’s experienced, he’s a Test player so he’ll be used to the pressure at Newlands, and he creates opportunities,” Ludeke said.