Saturday will be the hour of reckoning for the Bulls as they look to unshackle themselves from the horrible start to the Super Rugby campaign and at the same time take another step in their road to redemption as they look to build on their two-match winning run.
But the Bulls will need to front up for more than just an hour; they will need all of 80 minutes to show a true turnaround and finally play to their full potential.
For most of this season Marais’ side have struggled to put together a convincing 80- minute performance to justify their pre-competition billing as one of the best teams around, and this was why in their first six games they only managed to win one.
Beyond just playing for 80 minutes all individuals will need to be accounted for if the team is to function at its optimum and tempt fate by becoming the first side this season to beat the Crusaders.
There can be no doubting the talent the Bulls have within their squad and even with former Junior Springbok captain Hanro Liebenberg withdrawing from the team yesterday because of a hamstring strain, Marais is confident that Namibian international Renaldo Bothma will be up to the task of starting at number eight.
This is the one game that will go a long way in determining how the remainder of the season pans out for the Bulls and this is when their shortcomings and inability to dominate the set-piece, the breakdown and the lack of tightness in their defence will have to be a thing of the past if they are to hold on to their nine-year unbeaten run against the Crusaders at Loftus.
Yes it has been nine long years for the Crusaders but they will be the first to admit that it was always against Bulls outfits that were brutal physically, were overwhelmingly dominant in the scrums and line-outs, were unrelenting on defence and effectively made good of every opportunity they created to score points.
The attributes that have made the Bulls successful at home against the Crusaders in the past are the same traits that this year’s Crusaders outfit possess and it is difficult to see how any team in the competition can stop them.
At the same time, though, the Crusaders will be under no illusion at the possible ambush they could be walking into and their defeats in the 2007, 2009 and 2010 Super Rugby semi-finals including the epic round robin encounters in 2010 and 2015 will serve as a reminder of how dangerous a wounded Bulls team can be.
However this season the Crusaders have three times come from behind to win matches, playing with the physicality of men possessed.
In the past it has been this very same winning blueprint that the Bulls have copied with aplomb in winning their three Super Rugby titles and it is continuing to follow this blueprint that will place Marais’ men in the same position to replicate what previous Bulls teams have done to the Crusaders at Loftus.
“Our team is in good spirits ad the guys know exactly what we want. It is a huge opportunity and honour to play against a team as highly rated as the Crusaders,” Marais said. “They are the number one side in the competition, haven’t lost yet and if we want to beat them we will have to be up for it."