PRETORIA – It is not that the penny has finally dropped for the Bulls but there seems to be an understanding that the more they lose, the deeper they sink themselves into the quagmire.
The more they spoke about rectifying their wrongs after a loss, the more it looked like coach Nollis Marais and his players were out of touch with reality.
However four games down the track and with only one win and a giant of an opponent in the Chiefs awaiting them on Saturday morning in Hamilton, Marais knows that time is running out for his team to make good of their preseason expectations.
Beyond fulfilling the goals they set out for themselves before the season kicked off, the Bulls have come under severe pressure lately with many of the Loftus faithful showing their disappointment from the team’s results by calling for Marais’ head on social media.
The reality, though, is that the Bulls are running out of opportunities to make a real run this season and make it to the play-offs and if they don’t get a win soon, then the writing could be on the wall of them staring at the bottom of the barrel after another season that held so much promise but delivered little on the field.
“Apart from whatever is being said at the moment the side is in a good space but obviously they are taking the losses hard and they know what their responsibilities are to the union and the community. They also know what the things are that we need to fix and the guys are very positive, there is a lot of belief in the side. We know that there are small things that are costing at the moment and the only thing we can do as a team is to control that and make sure that we are alright. We know what needs to be done and obviously at the beginning of the season there was a lot of expectations, we’ve won one out of four and we know where we stand. We are not in any dream world where we are. We know we need to come out and perform and make the mistakes right,” Marais said from Rotorua.
The Bulls will now come face-to-face with reality on Saturday when they face an unbeaten Chiefs side that is riding the crest of the wave and lying in wait after lulling the Bulls into a false sense of belief in their preseason game in Brisbane which the men from Pretoria won 28-7.
With Marais looking at chancing his hand at winning he has made a number of changes, again, to his team with Jesse Kriel starting at fullback in place of Warrick Gelant, Jan Serfontein moving from inside centre to outside centre and Burger Odendaal coming in at number 12.
Other changes see a return to the starting line-up for Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige, Arno Botha makes his first start at number eight in place of the injured Hanro Liebenberg while RG Snyman will start alongside Lood de Jager in the second row and Pierre Schoeman will start at loosehead prop in a rotational move with Lizo Gqoboka.
The Bulls will now live on belief not only that they can win but they will bring to an abrupt halt the fortunes of the best team in New Zealand at the moment.
“Obviously nobody gives us a chance to beat the Chiefs and at the moment we accept that. Our last few performances don’t indicate that we are in good form but there is a lot of confidence in the side and we are looking forward to the weekend. We know where we stand as a team and what we need to do to be better. The guys take responsibility and we know that we have won one out of four games and they know what is needed from them. We believe that any team can beat any team over the weekend and although nobody will give us a chance over the weekend we must just go out and play. There is a lot of belief in the side and I am not going to put the guys under a lot of pressure by saying a lot of negative things.”
“The Chiefs are the best team in New Zealand at the moment, they’ve won four from four and have their All Blacks back. They will punish you from anywhere if you make mistakes. They’ve got a good forward pack and good backline. The pre-season feels like a lifetime ago though and I’d rather focus on this weekend, I think the guys are looking forward to it, and because we have not played them before, the unknown factor isn’t there anymore. They are a good side and if we want to beat them we will need to come out like we did in Brisbane,” said Marais.
Bulls: Jesse Kriel, Travis Ismaiel, Jan Serfontein, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Handré Pollard, Rudy Paige, Arno Botha, Nick de Jager, Ruan Steenkamp, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Lizo Gqoboka, Jacobie Adriaanse, Jason Jenkins, Jannes Kirsten, Piet van Zyl, Tian Schoeman, Warrick Gelant.
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Shaun Stevenson, Anton Lienert-Brown, Johnny Faauli, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (co-captain), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (co-captain), Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Hika Elliot, Siegfried Fisi’ihoi. Replacements: Brayden Mitchell, Kane Hames, Atu Moli, Taleni Seu, Mitchell Karpik, Finlay Christie, Stephen Donald, Solomon Alaimalo.
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant referees: Paul Williams, Cam Stone
TMO: Ben Skeen
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 8.35am (SA time)