Blue Bulls hooker Bandise Maku knows that how the pack responds to the pressure the powerful Western Province forwards will put them under will go a long way to deciding who wins their Currie Cup semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
Western Province will come to Pretoria with a SuperRugby-strength team featuring a powerful front row of Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Wilco Louw, and two of the best young locks in the country in Ruan Botha and Jean Kleyn, while the combative Nizaam Carr, the intimidating Rynhardt Elstadt and the pacy Sikhumbuzo Notshe form a superbly well-balanced loose trio.
“As a pack, we’ve gone quite well and guys like Pierre Schoeman, Marvin Orie and RG Snyman have come through well. But Western Province have a very good set-piece and are strong on the drive as well, so we’re expecting a big clash up front. Myself, Deon Stegmann, Lappies Labuschagne and Arno Botha have the experience, we need to stay level-headed because there’s always going to be pressure in a semi-final. It’s how you react to it that’s crucial and the set-piece battle is going to be very important, lineouts and defending the drive as well,” Maku told The Citizen on Tuesday.
Western Province, with Kitshoff at the forefront, will no doubt see the Blue Bulls scrum as a potential area of weakness, but Maku said they have improved since being worked over in Cape Town a month ago when the Blue Bulls were beaten 29-14.
“It’s important to get the combinations right up front and we’ve been doing quite well in the scrums lately. It’s still a work in progress, it’s long-term, but we have improved. There’s been a change in personnel and now we want to scrum, plus we have Werner Kruger coming off the bench to add his experience,” Maku said.
The 29-year-old Springbok is one of the most experienced players in the Blue Bulls team with 74 Currie Cup and 53 SuperRugby caps, and he sees taking whatever points are on offer as being the key factor in whether they reach their first final since 2010.
“It’s all about taking your chances. If you have a lineout five metres out, then you have to make it count. You need to take your points so you create scoreboard pressure, so you also have to kick very well, kick when you have to and keep the pressure on them with the boot. We’ll also need to play with more discipline because that will put pressure on them as well,” Maku said.