PRETORIA - Springbok and Bulls lock Lood de Jager has probably been saving his best performance of the season for the encounter against All Blacks and Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock.
But Saturday’s crunch Super Rugby encounter between the Bulls and Crusaders will deny the fans a duel royale between two of the finest locks of their generation after Whitelock coped a two match suspension for striking a player with his elbow in the Crusaders win against the Cheetahs last weekend.
De Jager may have a plausible excuse to feeling aggrieved at missing out on yet another battle with Whitelock but the lanky Springbok second rower believes that the Bulls have a golden opportunity to pull off their best performance yet to overcome the unbeaten log leaders.
As much as De Jager had been relishing the challenge of locking horns with Whitelock and All Black captain Kieran Read, who suffered a broken thumb against the Cheetahs and is ruled out for six weeks, it is the Bulls that face an even greater challenge of stopping the Crusaders nine match unbeaten run.
“I am (disappointed). I actually look forward to playing against him and especially Kieran Read, they are a good test at lineout time. But it is what it is and injuries and suspensions are part of the game but we are still looking forward to Saturday,” De Jager said.
“I think they are world class players both of them and any side will suffer without both of them. But they’ve got youngsters that can step up to the plate and we’ll see on Saturday but both of them are a big loss to their side.
“They are a quality side, they’ve always been and they are most successful team in Super Rugby. They’ve got nine wins in a row so it will be a big challenge for us but we are looking forward to it.”
As mediocre as the Bulls have been since the beginning of the season they have been able to keep a three match unbeaten run at fortress Loftus Versfeld and with the Crusaders not having won in the capital since 2008, De Jager has urged his teammates to use their home ground record as a source of motivation in taking the battle to the Crusaders.
“We are at Loftus and I think we need to use that. It gives us a lot of confidence and energy and we will need to come out of the blocks firing and take the game to them. Any New Zealand side you can’t wait for them to make the play otherwise it’s going to be a long day,” said De Jager on Tuesday.
It will certainly be a long day for the Bulls if they allow the New Zealanders to gain confidence in the game especially on attack where the men from Christchurch have mastered the skill of offloading in the tackle and keeping the ball alive in breaking down opposition defences.
What will be key for the Bulls in nullifying the Crusaders according to De Jager, will be their uncompromising brutality in the confrontation but more importantly their ability to get off the line in defence quicker than the Crusaders are able to on attack.
“They are a quality attacking unit, they get the offloads off and quick ball so I think we need to be physical, get in their faces and get quick line speed and hopefully we can nullify their threats on Saturday,” De Jager said.
Meanwhile the Bulls cannot utilize the services of former Sevens loose forward Boom Prinsloo, who they signed over the weekend, for the remainder of the Super Rugby campaign.
In announcing the acquisition of Prinsloo from the Cheetahs, the Blue Bulls Company assumed that Prinsloo would be available for them immediately however Sanzar has confirmed that Prinsloo is not eligible to play Super Rugby until next year as he is still registered under the Cheetahs.