Pretoria - Springbok and long-time Blue Bulls servant Akona Ndungane has fingered himself and his teammates for the Blue Bulls woeful performances in the past two weeks which has seen the Bulls sink to the bottom of the Absa Currie Cup log.
The 31-year-old Ndungane, who is the oldest of the player in the team and the most experienced with 72 Currie Cup caps, says the time has now come for the Bulls players to step up and restore the pride to the Bulls jersey and repay the faith coach Pine Pienaar has shown in his players after their dismal showing against Western Province and the Golden Lions.
The Bulls are firmly rooted to the bottom of the log and another loss to Griquas in their upcoming game in Kimberley on Saturday could spell disaster for the Bulls who would become prime candidates to play in the promotion relegation match against the winners of the Currie Cup first division.
While shouldering the responsibility for the Bulls inept performances, veteran player Ndungane has called on his teammates especially the senior players in the side to lead from the front.
“It is not only up to me, even though I am the only player in the backline with enough experience, it is also up to the other senior players in the team to also make that step up. I think it is the whole team that has not been performing and producing, from the forwards to the backs. Us as senior players need to make that step up and lead the youngsters coming through. Hopefully this weekend things can turn around,” said Ndungane on Tuesday.
Ndungane, who has won two Currie Cup titles with the Bulls, believes that a turn around in fortunes should get the team back on track to making the play-offs in October.
“We set high standards for ourselves and to be where we at now is not where we want to be. We are in it to win the competition and at the moment we are nowhere near that. We know what is at stake and what we need to do to get out of this situation and give ourselves a chance to be in the play-offs,” said Ndungane.
While the Bulls have shown intent during the first round of the Currie Cup with two wins against Griquas and the Sharks, Ndungane believes that the team’s inability to defend has been their biggest weakness and it is not a coaching matter but one that should be blamed on individual players.
Ndungane also ruled out the fact that the absence of former Bulls defence coach John McFarland who is now with the Springboks has contributed to the demise of the Bulls defensive structure.
“I think at the moment what is letting us down is the defence. We’ve leaked four tries in three consecutive games. I think that is the main issue and we have been speaking about it amongst the players and coaching staff and we need to make a step up. I think if you score three tries and the opposition scores four tries against you, there is no way you are going to win the game.
If we can change that and fix it we’ll definitely see some good results,” said Ndungane.
“Defence is all about attitude and on the individuals as well. John’s (McFarland) structures are there and everyone has been through them with the exception of two guys and we all know how we defend as a team. John has laid that foundation here. It is not the structures, it’s the actual players missing the one-on-one tackles and that you can’t coach at this level.
“If only the players can make that mind shift and making those one-on-one tackles then we should be fine,” said Ndungane.
While the Bulls players will need an immediate change in attitude on defence, Pienaar seems to have made up his mind on the make-up of his team to face Griquas in Kimberley with centre Ullrich Beyers likely to replace the under-performing Johann Sadie at outside centre with Rudy Paige expected to make his run on debut at scrumhalf in place of Ruan Snyman and Jurgen Visser coming in for Clayton Blommetjies at fullback.
The expected return of loose forward Arno Botha has been delayed by another week by the Bulls medical staff as Botha is still recovering from his hamstring injury but Botha along with Springbok wing Bjorn Basson are expected to be fit and back to full training next week.
There were also some good news for the Bulls as Springbok Chiliboy Ralepelle has been given two more weeks of rehabilitation before returning to action after a knee injury while on national duty threatened to bring the curtain down on Ralepelle’s year.
The rumoured meeting between Blue Bulls bosses and Pienaar which was set for yesterday did not happen and instead Blue Bulls Rugby Union president Louis Nel met with Super Rugby franchise coach Frans Ludeke. At the same time there has been little coming out of the Blue Bulls Company or the Blue Bulls Rugby Union on the expected buy out of the Blue Bulls Holdings by Kagiso Media from Sail.
The deal is still at its infancy stage with talks between the Marc Group, owners of Sail, and Kagiso set to continue in the coming weeks before it is made official.
“It is still early days and people need to understand that Kagiso are not buying the entire union but half of it,” said an insider at Loftus Versfeld on Tuesday.