There was an eerie stillness at Loftus Versfeld on Monday that is unusual for a team that is facing a daunting three weeks of Super Rugby that will determine their fate in the competition this year.
Instead of getting down to hard work after the three-week Test window break, the Bulls opted to take things easy and focus more on the mental toughness of their players ahead of their clashes with the Cheetahs, Sharks and Lions.
It is true that, physically, nothing more can be done for the Bulls to gain an edge over the other teams in the competition to ensure that they gain that all-important play-off spot but much more can be done mentally to put the brakes on the three-match losing run before the break.
From now on it will be business unusual for the Bulls as they look to secure victory and maximum points in their remaining fixtures starting with the game against the Cheetahs at Loftus on Saturday.
While it might be an exaggeration to say the Bulls are in a do-or-die situation, they do find themselves in a rather uncomfortable position of no longer having the luxury of losing a game.
Despite the doom and gloom there is plenty to be positive about with the Bulls’ fate still being in their own hands and, more importantly, with the return of some experienced soldiers for the final assault on the competition.
Springboks Zane Kirchner (knee), Jacques Potgieter (knee) and Dewald Potgieter (hamstring) were on Monday passed fit for selection while prop Frik Kirsten will be available after injuring his hand during the Bulls tour of Australia and New Zealand.
Flank Deon Stegmann has not fully recovered from his broken arm and won’t be available to play against the Cheetahs.
However, Bulls coach Frans Ludeke will have more on his plate than the usual meticulous plot to defeat the Cheetahs – there is also the unenviable job of deciding which men will be suitable to do battle.
Most of the team chooses itself but there remains a jostling for positions among the loose forwards with the return of Potgieter.
But why change a winning combination which has played exceptionally this season?
CJ Stander, Jacques Potgieter and Pierre Spies have been outstanding as a unit while individually Jacques has played so well that he gained his first Test cap after a solid showing in his rookie Super Rugby campaign.
Stander has also come on in leaps and bounds since making his Super Rugby debut this season and was called up to the national team as part of a group of youngsters identified to make the Springbok team in the not too distant future.
While Ludeke grows more grey hairs thinking about his strongest team, there is also the case of Springbok flyhalf Morné Steyn, who has not been at his kicking best recently.
It is not that Steyn is struggling with his playing form, but rather he has begun to struggle with his kicking, usually his forte, which Ludeke and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer have been quick to declare has nothing to do with his technique.
The reality of the matter is that Steyn could be mentally fatigued after playing in every Bulls game and almost all of the Springbok matches in the past four years.
Can the Bulls afford not to play with their strongest weapon at a time when kicking for goal and mental toughness will be key? – Pretoria News