PRETORIA – “Cometh hour, cometh the man”. Those will probably be the last words that Bulls coach Nollis Marais will say to his team before they run out to face the almighty Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
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 of rugby that justifies their pre competition billing as one of the best teams around and that has often been their Achilles especially in their first six games where 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.
In this the Bulls most wanting hour, the real men with blue blood coursing through their veins will stand up and like many other men before them, they will play the best game of their lives just for that moment to say they stopped the Crusaders nine match winning streak.
There can be no doubting the talent that the Bulls have within their squad and even with former Junior Springboks captain Hanro Liebenberg withdrawing from the team on Friday because of a hamstring strain, Marais has will have the comfort of knowing 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 lineouts, 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 seemingly 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.
In nine games, the Crusaders have shown the grit and resolve needed to win championships by three times coming from behind to win matches while playing with the physicality of men possessed and the flair that has made New Zealand rugby the dominant force globally for just the last seven years.
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 spirit and the guys know exactly what we want. It is a huge opportunity and honour to play against a team that is as highly rated as the Crusaders,” Marais said.
“They are the number one side in the competition, haven’t lost yet and if you want to beat them you will have to be up for it. It will be a huge test for us and it helps with motivation if you play the number one side and the guys are really looking forward to it.
“Many of our players hadn’t played against New Zealand sides before this season and about 10 guys haven’t played against the Crusaders, so it will be a big challenge for them. If they want to beat them on Saturday then they will have to be at their best because they are a really good side and they play for 80 minutes. We would love to win, it will help a lot. It will certainly help a lot.”
Bulls team: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Tian Schoeman, Piet van Zyl, Renaldo Bothma, Jacques Potgieter, Nick de Jager, Lood de Jager, Jason Jenkins, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka, Jacobie Adriaanse, RG Snyman, Jannes Kirsten, Rudy Paige, Francois Brummer, Jan Serfontein
Crusaders team: David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Tim Bateman, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd (captain), Pete Samu, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Bryn Hall, Mitchell Hunt, Ryan Crotty
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Federico Anselmi, AJ Jacobs
TMO: Johan Greeff
Venue: Loftus Versfeld