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If ever there was going to be a time during this year’s Super Rugby campaign that the Bulls are to prove their worth as championship contenders, it is now.
There will be no better time for the real title contenders from the South African conference to stand up and stake their claim as the Bulls and Stormers battle it out for one of the three coveted spots in Super Rugby.
It might not yet be the end of the road in the league stage of the Super Rugby competition but in front of a sold-out Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, the victors will take one giant leap towards securing a home semi-final berth.
The Bulls, on 48 points, trail the Stormers by two points on the log and will go out with the same aim as their adversary of seeking the four points for a win especially after losing ground in their last two games, which were defeats to the Highlanders and Chiefs respectively.
A win for the Bulls will catapult them into first place in the South African conference and second spot on the combined log prior to the three-week Test window and if they can go on to win their three remaining games against the Cheetahs, Sharks and Lions, then the men in pink should secure a semi-final berth at Loftus.
But the same goes for the Stormers, who after last weekend’s loss to the Sharks have been struck by a sprinkling of self-doubt and will be just as desperate to get victory to stay on top and sneak ever so closer to their third consecutive semi-final berth.
Pound for pound, there can be no more evenly-matched sides in South African rugby as these two great rivals, but the Bulls will feel the scale tipping ever slightly in their favour as the Stormers are missing Schalk Burger, Andries Bekker, Duane Vermeulen and Joe Pietersen, who have been the backbone of their campaigns in recent years.
However, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is not fooled by individuals and whatever assumptions are out there and believes that more than just dominating the collisions, set-pieces and the gain line, it is the team that can absorb and use the pressure of this game to their advantage that will emerge victorious.
The Bulls have not been a team that suffers from stage fright in their recent Super Rugby campaigns. Instead they thrive in high pressure games especially at fortress Loftus to overcome their opposition.
On the other hand, the Stormers will be fully aware of what is at stake on Saturday and they will undoubtedly be willing to sacrifice life and limb to rise and ultimately claim a championship that has eluded them in the past two seasons.
But will that hunger and desperation be enough to subdue and contain a Bulls team that has already defied the odds by being one of the best in the competition this year?
“We know that from the start it will be tight. We must get our show on the road with a good start. There will be nothing new that both sides will bring to the party as every team in Super Rugby has sussed each other out. Now it is a mental race until the end,” said Ludeke.
“We feel good and have momentum from our last two games and that will be vital in getting control.” – The Star