Johannesburg – The Bulls can ill afford to slip-up in their final match of the Super Rugby league stage against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The three-time Super Rugby champions failed to defend their title last year when they suffered a defeat at the hands of the Sharks while fighting for a playoff berth at the same venue.
The home side will go into this crucial clash with one goal in mind – to come away with a bonus-point victory over the Lions.
The Lions' recent good form, however, could pose a serious threat to the Pretoria outfit's title aspirations.
Bulls skipper Pierre Spies said his side needed to be accurate this weekend if they harboured playoff ambitions.
“For some teams it will be the last game of the season and for others it's still a game to play for, to go further,” Spies said.
“So there’s going to be a lot of pressure like that.
“For us as a group we are really focussing on what we want to achieve and know that the Lions will be well prepared and will pitch on the day.”
The Lions proved to be a stumbling block for the Sharks’ aspirations three weeks ago when they came away with a surprise 38-28 victory at Ellis Park.
While the visitors have little to play for in terms of their log position, a victory over their northern neighbours will give them confidence heading to the domestic Currie Cup season.
Lions captain Joshua Strauss said his side were prepared for a bruising battle against a Bulls outfit desperate to secure a playoff spot.
“It is always a tough game. It is a derby game and it's probably the biggest one in the country,” Strauss said.
“We don’t have much to lose and are playing for each other, and for pride.
“We want to end the season off well and build momentum going into the Currie Cup.”
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke felt the Lions had played with greater commitment since their coach, John Mitchell, was suspended pending an investigation into his conduct towards players.
“They play with more heart, so you can see there is unity now and you can see it in the way they defend and attack,” Ludeke said.
“They always like to get the ball in space. There’s not a lot of structure change.”
Lions interim coach Johan Ackermann believed it was crucial for his side to lay a solid foundation in the first half if they wanted to have a say in the match.
“They always start well at Loftus and you have to match that,” Ackermann said.
“We have to produce the same start as we did against the Sharks and the Rebels.
“By half-time we still have to be in the game.” – Sapa