Thanks to collecting nine points in the last two weeks, against their main rivals for fourth place on the log – the Free State Cheetahs and the Pumas, the Bulls now just need to beat Griquas to assure themselves of a place in the semi-finals.
The clarity of the situation has also allowed coach Frans Ludeke to make six changes to the team, most of them rotational as they eye out the semi-finals.
Handre Pollard, the newest Springbok flyhalf sensation, will start off the bench on Saturday, a wise move giving the youngster the chance to catch his breath after a dizzying last week and reintegrate himself with the Bulls ahead of the knockout games. Ludeke said there is still a 5% chance that a niggling ankle problem will keep Pollard out, in which case Tian Schoeman will be the reserve flyhalf.
The scrum is one area where the Bulls have really shone in the latter stages of the Currie Cup, but Ludeke will nevertheless field an entirely new front row, with Springbok Marcel van der Merwe starting at tighthead, Bongi Mbonambi at hooker and Morne Mellet in the number one jersey. Callie Visagie and Springbok Werner Kruger will be on the bench.
The rotation continues at scrumhalf with Piet van Zyl starting ahead of Rudy Paige, but as the Bulls surely transit towards the semi-finals, there is one backline position where Ludeke is perhaps still unsure of who the first-choice should be.
Springbok Bjorn Basson starts on the left wing on Saturday in what will probably be his last chance to supplant Sampie Mastriet, who has made great strides in his game this season.
William Small-Smith will return in the number 13 jersey instead of JJ Engelbrecht, who has been stood down as a contracted Springbok – a ridiculous decision by SA Rugby that will not benefit anyone.
Engelbrecht has missed large swathes of the season due to injury and desperately needs to string some games together to rediscover his old form. Instead, he will be forced to sit on the sidelines until next year and will not be able to push for a place on the end-of-year tour.
“The presence of Marcel and Handre will give the team a big boost, they are quality players who produced a high standard in the Rugby Championship. The players working for each other will make us a dangerous team and you can see the team-work, the players complementing each other, and we’re getting momentum, playing off the front foot and scoring tries. But that will only happen if there’s work off the ball,” Ludeke said at Loftus Versfeld yesterday.
The coach will be hoping for a repeat of the display against the Pumas last weekend in Nelspruit, when the Bulls romped to a 37-6 victory.
“Last week against the Pumas was our most clinical performance and I feel like we will be peaking at the right time, which is vital. We need to be quick to spot the big moments because they swing momentum your way,” Ludeke said.
Bulls team – 15-Ulrich Beyers, 14-Akona Ndungane, 13-William Small-Smith, 12-Burger Odendaal, 11-Bjorn Basson, 10-Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9-Piet van Zyl, 8-Jono Ross, 7-Jacques du Plessis, 6-Deon Stegmann, 5-Grant Hattingh, 4-Paul Willemse, 3-Marcel van der Merwe, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Morne Mellet. Reserves: 16-Callie Visagie, 17-Werner Kruger, 18-Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 19-Wiaan Liebenberg, 20-Rudy Paige, 21-Handre Pollard, 22-Jesse Kriel.