Pretoria - After Friday night’s emphatic 44-23 win over the Brumbies, one could not fault the Bulls for thinking their season is firmly back on track and they are well on their way to making the Super Rugby play-offs.
Just as quickly as the Bulls may have been almost certain of their place in the play-offs, they were dealt a blow over the weekend with results not entirely going their way.
What was a comprehensive and probably their best performance of the season against a Brumbies side that had beaten them in last year’s semi-final would have probably felt meaningless for the Bulls as they remain in the same place on the log as they were before playing the Brumbies.
The loss did plenty of harm for the Brumbies and their season is evenly balanced with no room for losses if they are to make the play-offs. For the Bulls, not even a bonus point win could have moved them from ninth spot on the log and they will go into the last three fixtures of the round robin knowing that their fate is not entirely in their own hands.
As the Bulls prepare to face the Lions on Saturday at Ellis Park, their mission won’t just be that of winning, but it will be imperative that they pick up the bonus point as well and do the same when they face the Melbourne Rebels and Stormers in their remaining games.
But what will also need to happen for the Bulls to secure a place in the play-offs is for most of the teams ahead of them to suffer a loss or two to narrow down the deficit.
While being in ninth place may look grim in terms of the combined log, the Bulls can take some comfort from the fact that they are not too far off seven of the teams ahead of them. The Bulls are currently on 33 points just six points adrift of the second placed Crusaders while the first placed Sharks are leading the competition with a commanding but still attainable 44 points. While the Bulls are fully aware of the closeness of the teams in the top 10 places on the log, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is holding on to their mantra of taking it game by game in the hope that they will win all their remaining games while some of the teams at the top slip up.
Ludeke, though, said it is important for his team to look no further than their derby against the Lions and to be wary of the dangers that Johan Ackermann’s men will pose after some spirited performances on their tour. “Our focus is just the Lions. We are glad for the Sharks, they played very well on tour. Next weekend is a vital one for us against the Lions at Ellis Park. They are coming back from their tour. We would like to put in a solid week in preparations and play well over the weekend and that is how we get the results,” said Bulls coach Ludeke.
The Bulls preparations this week will be interrupted, with a handful of their players having joined the Springbok training camp in Durban on Sunday and only expected to be back at Loftus on Tuesday. But after Friday’s win Ludeke believes the team is oozing confidence.
“What is good about the team at the moment is that our depth is starting to grow, players are getting confident, individuals are playing better because the team is playing well and we would like to continue with that,” Ludeke added.
As ruthless and back to their winning ways as the Bulls looked against the Brumbies, Bulls captain Flip van der Merwe has called on his team to continue to improve if they are to make the knockout stages.
“We still leaked three tries on the night. You want to play a game and score four tries but you don’t want them to score, so obviously there is always room for improvement. We are now focusing on the Lions and they bring something different from the Brumbies. It’s a new focus this week and new facets we can improve on,” Van der Merwe.