PRETORIA - In what will be his last game at the helm of the Bulls in Super Rugby, Nollis Marais cares little for the sentiment that will come with the occasion and instead wants his team to end the season on their own terms.
And that will be a win against the very same Stormers side that struck the first blow in their ill-fated season that ultimately led to his demise as head coach halfway through his four year deal at Loftus Versfeld.
But Marais is not looking backwards and how differently he could have done things and now only seeks that elusive silver lining in what has been a turbulent tenure of a team that held so much promise at the beginning of the season.
In the two years under Marais, the Bulls have missed out on making the Super Rugby play-offs and even though understandable in his first year last year, the string of soulless losses this season became unbearable including a record home defeat against the Crusaders.
The fact that the Bulls failed dismally in their bid to make the play-offs just rubbed salt into a gaping wound and as evident as it was that Marais was not the only problem, his employers saw it prudent to relieve him off his duties and bring in a new voice in John Mitchell.
Marais holds no grudges for how things have panned out for him and will leave the job that much more wiser, but as a die-hard Bulls man he will take a win against the old foe to soothe whatever it is that has happened this year.
“It has been a good week. We sat down on Monday and I told the guys that this is not what we planned for this season and we’ve let the fans down. Obviously there is change coming but we have let the fans down and it’s not nice," he said.
"But we want to finish off strong, make the people proud, play good rugby and do our utmost to win on Saturday. It is still a derby. As I said to the players, I started against the Stormers and I finish against the Stormers and we are just looking forward to the game."
Marais’ final wish is understandable as victory against a Stormers team that long secured their place in the play-offs would go a long way in affirming his belief that he did have a good team at his disposal but they were not yet ripe to mount a serious challenge for the title.
So much so, that Marais has done his best to stay true to the team that beat the Sharks two weeks ago before going down to the Southern Kings last week with only two changes in flank Shaun Adendorff coming in for Ruan Steenkamp and loosehead prop Pierre Schoeman replacing Lizo Gqoboka, who is suffering from a bout of headaches.
“The positives about the season is that I learnt a lot about on and off the field issues especially the off the field issues which I didn’t deal with at the lower levels. But that famous quote 'every level has its own devil' so there is a lot of things I’ve learnt,” Marais said at his final team announcement press conference.
"There are many youngsters coming through like RG Snyman who struggled in the beginning of the season but is playing excellent rugby at the moment. You take a guy like Jan Serfontein who is playing brilliant rugby and behind him sits a guy like Burger Odendaal who has been brilliant as well this year.
"I still believe that 2017 was always going to be a tough year because out of the 23 players 17 of them had never played against New Zealand sides. They are still very young and they will get better and better. We’ve got the talent and it is about developing that talent properly and making sure they can compete at that level."
Bulls team: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Duncan Matthews, Tian Schoeman, Rudy Paige, Nic de Jager, Jannes Kirsten, Shaun Adendorff, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Conraad van Vuuren, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Trevor Nyakane, John-Roy Jenkinson, Rueben van Heerden, Ruan Steenkamp, Piet van Zyl, Tony Jantjies, Burger Odendaal.