Despite the mounting pressure on them, the Bulls will remain faithful to the same plan they used in the opening two weeks of Vodacom SuperRugby when they take on the Sharks in a crunch local derby at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
“We believe what we are doing is right, we’re just not executing it well enough. Everybody can see where our mistakes are and we know that we haven’t performed as well as we can, not up to our standards,” captain Pierre Spies said.
The Bulls were just centimetres away – Grant Hattingh’s ‘try’ being disallowed by the TMO – from actually beating the Hurricanes last weekend and Spies believes this shows how close they are to turning their season around after opening with two defeats.
“It’s a game of inches and we need to keep perspective – if Grant had cut his fingernails the night before then we would have won and we wouldn’t be having this discussion, wouldn’t be looking at everything we’ve done wrong.
“We just have to graft it out, gel together and really stand up as a unit. We need to start converting pressure into points,” Spies said.
But it’s not just the Bulls’ results that have been disappointing: Against both the Stormers and the Hurricanes there was just no spark, no intensity, and a similar flatness against the Sharks will cost them dearly.
The Sharks responded to their opening defeat against the Cheetahs with a highly-impressive bonus-point win in sodden conditions over the Lions, a commanding performance in the scrum laying the platform.
The scrum has been a key area of concern for the Bulls so far this season, and if they don’t sort it out today, then it will surely also cost them dearly.
If the Sharks get front-foot ball then they can either attack through the middle with mobile, powerful ball-carrying forwards like Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski, or they have finishing quality out wide in a backline that was superbly marshalled by Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach against the Lions, and features pace on the wings in Lwazi Mvovo and Odwa Ndungane.
The return of Kankowski will also help the production of quality ball off the back of the lineout and it is in the set-pieces where the Bulls will find themselves under intense pressure.
“Obviously the Sharks have a very good set-piece set-up, we know they have a quality base there. So we need to make sure we put them under pressure there and make sure it’s a good base for us,” Spies said.
Under the circumstances currently at Loftus Versfeld, the words “misplaced optimism” spring to mind, but if the Bulls can regain the passion and pride that they normally possess at home, then they might just be able to dig themselves out of the hole they are currently in.
Bulls: 15-Jesse Kriel, 14-Bjorn Basson, 13-JJ Engelbrecht, 12-Jan Serfontein, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Handrè Pollard, 9-Rudy Paige, 8-Pierre Spies, 7-Lappies Labuschagne, 6-Deon Stegmann, 5-Victor Matfield, 4-Jacques du Plessis, 3-Trevor Nyakane, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Mornè Mellet. Replacements – 16-Callie Visagie, 17-Dean Greyling, 18-Marcel van der Merwe, 19-Grant Hattingh, 20-Hanro Liebenberg, 21-Tian Schoeman, 22-Travis Ismaiel, 23-Jurgen Visser.
Sharks: 15-SP Marais, 14-Odwa Ndungane, 13-Waylon Murray, 12-Andre Esterhuizen, 11-Lwazi Mvovo, 10-Pat Lambie, 9-Cobus Reinach, 8-Ryan Kankowski, 7-Renaldo Bothma, 6-Marcell Coetzee, 5-Pieter-Steph du Toit,
4-Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 1-Dale Chadwick. Replacements – 16-Kyle Cooper, 17-Thomas du Toit, 18-Lourens Adriaanse, 19-Marco Wentzel, 20-Jean Deysel, 21-Conrad Hoffmann, 22-Fred Zeilinga/Lionel Cronje, 23-Jack Wilson.