PRETORIA - Springbok and Bulls utility back Jesse Kriel believes the only way out of the rut the Bulls find themselves in is to stand up and fight back.
The Bulls reached an all-time low last weekend when they suffered a record defeat at home at the hands of the Crusaders and they could be in for more despair with another New Zealand side the Highlanders coming to town.
Kriel was one of a handful of standout players in Saturday’s embarrassing defeat and has urged his teammates to wear their hearts on their sleeve when they play against the Highlanders and be smarter in their plan to restore dignity to a jersey they have played into the gutter.
Beyond just being a wake-up call losing to the Crusaders with the 62-24 margin, Kriel admitted that it was a dose of reality for a team that once bossed the Super Rugby competition by winning three titles in four years.
“I think it was reality, we weren’t good enough and it’s not our standards. We’ve played some good rugby this year at times and we disappointed ourselves on Saturday night. It’s back to the drawing board and we must get a new plan for the Highlanders this weekend. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, we are going to have to play a lot smarter and we can’t just throw the ball around and hope something is going to happen,” said Kriel.
The repercussions of the Bulls loss to the Crusaders have gone beyond Saturday night and could easily result in coach Nollis Marais being relieved of his duties but Kriel says each and every player will need to take a hard look at themselves and turn over a new leaf if they are to mount a formidable challenge against the Highlanders.
At the same time Kriel is under no illusion that his side were beaten by a better side even though they believed that they could put up a better fight than they actually did.
“Everyone is obviously very disappointed. Every week you go into a game believing you are going to win the game and all of us truly believed that we were going to win the game against the Crusaders. We’ve got to give credit to the Crusaders they were very good on the night, they were better than us and exposed us. We’ve got to take a hard look at ourselves. There is that 24 hour period where you got to hurt but now the feeling is that we are on a new page and we must put it (loss) behind us and focus on the Highlanders this weekend. We can’t carry on hammering on this (Crusaders) loss, not nice but we have to look forward to the game this weekend.”
For the better part of this season, the Bulls have lacked the intensity that is required for them to be competitive for the entire duration of their matches and beyond just fitness and conditioning, Kriel wants his teammates to start putting their bodies on the line for the bigger cause.
The only way out for the Bulls now will come down to how they are able to boss the Highlanders in the set-pieces while their toil at the breakdown will also need to be impeccable.
The Bulls cannot be faultered for their appetite and intent in wanting to put points on the scoreboard but they are always found wanting when it comes to execution which has consistently let them down in all of their games so far.
At the heart of the Bulls woes has been their inability to believe in the process and Kriel says they will need a change of mindset if they are to be competitive against the Highlanders and see their fortunes change from being the whipping boys into a feared force again.
“I just think they brought a different intensity which made us look flat. I think we just have to work harder. It’s a mindset, it’s a battle between yourself and no one else and you’ve got to make that mind shift and you have to decide within yourself that you want to put your body on the line for the team. I’m sure everyone wants to and nobody goes out onto the field wanting to lose or give off their best. We’ve got to work harder for each other, pick up the intensity and start competing with other teams,” Kriel said.