Chiefs game could define Bulls seasonComment on this story
The Bulls stand on the precipice of a season that could culminate in the Super Rugby trophy returning to Loftus Versfeld.
Or, it could be the moment that plants the seed of self-doubt that could hinder them in their ambitions.
The Bulls face their biggest test yet this season as they face-off with the defending champions, the Chiefs, today – the perfect opportunity to present their title credentials.
As surprising as it has been that the Bulls could be spoken of in the same breath as teams touted as championship material, it is also surprising that the Chiefs will not enter Loftus as favourites as they have been in the past two years.
While the result of this fixture is finely balanced depending on which team one supports, the reality is the Chiefs come to Loftus with some self-doubt after a shock defeat at the hands of the Western Force. They also have not tasted success in 13 years in Pretoria.
In order to counter any remnants of negativity from their defeat in Perth, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made eight changes to his starting team in the hope that it ignites some hunger and a willingness to play themselves into a new chapter in their history at Loftus.
There is also the daunting reality of facing a Bulls team high in confidence, unbeaten at home in three matches and determined to continue climbing the Super Rugby standings.
Rennie has acknowledged the magnitude of the task that lies ahead and is even more wary of the psychological barrier Loftus has been for previous Chiefs teams.
“It is a tough assignment. They are a tough team away from home, let alone at Loftus but we are excited by the challenge,” Rennie said.
“A number of our boys haven’t played there before and it’s going to be a massive crowd so we will have to be better than we were last week,” said Rennie.
“They are a proud team and they have three championships behind them. They got off to a slower start than you would expect, the Crusaders are pretty similar in our conference. It’s a tough and long competition and it is not won in the first couple of weeks.
“They will obviously be tough at Loftus,” said Rennie.
While it might seem the Bulls are favourites, that can all evaporate in a matter of 80 minutes if the hosts get carried away with what they have done previously.
The Bulls will need to go about their work with a bit more precision, patience and execution than they displayed in their win over the Sharks last week and shut out any chance of the Chiefs gaining even a wee bit of control in the match.
So far the Bulls have adhered to the primary proposition for teams with championship ambitions and that is to win your home games.
They will need to hold on to that as they face an even greater test of their character, fortitude and ability to become champions when they embark on their four-week tour of Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday.
A seventh consecutive win against the Chiefs at Loftus will announce their intentions and, crucially, it will send them on the most treacherous part of the season with enough belief that they can conquer and supersede what they had achieved in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
“We are focusing on this week, next week will take care of itself. We want to finish this phase with a win at home. The ball will be in play, there will be a lot of phases and tackles to be made to get a result,” said Bulls coach Frans Ludeke. - Saturday Star