PRETORIA – With no prospect of making the Super Rugby playoffs and nothing but pride left to play for, Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss has urged his team to throw caution to the wind and express themselves when they play the Sharks in Durban on Friday.
The Bulls have endured one of their worst seasons in Super Rugby winning three of their 12 matches thus far. And their woeful campaign has been further compounded by a record defeat to the Crusaders at home and a maiden loss to lowly Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Strauss wants the Bulls' last throw of the dice in the competition to be meaningful not only for outgoing coach Nollis Marais, who will be relieved of his duties at the end of the season, but also in an effort to regain the gloss the team have lost this year.
While there will be no need for Strauss to motivate his team in their remaining games against the Sharks, Southern Kings and Stormers, the men from Loftus Versfeld will still need to put up a fighting performance ahead of the arrival of new executive for rugby and former All Blacks coach John Mitchell later next month.
“We understand the responsibility to play good rugby and all that. To be honest, the shackles are a bit off at the moment and we need to go out there and express ourselves and play with intent. We’ve got three games to go in the competition and we need to show that intent and passion on the field,” Strauss said.
Although many of the players will be playing for their livelihood at Loftus under Mitchell, Strauss will want to close the door on what has been a testing two years during his captaincy of the Bulls and the Springboks.
After calling time on his international career at the end of last year after the Springboks suffered their worst season, Strauss will be sitting out the domestic season in a bid to return fitter and stronger next year in Super Rugby where he hopes to lead the Bulls to better results and possibly a place in the play-offs.
“No, it is not my last three games. I’m not playing in the Currie Cup but I still got some time left,” said the former Bok captain.
Tomorrow’s game will be an opportunity for some of the lesser known Bulls players to make their mark in the team with yet another wing Kefentse Mahlo making his Super Rugby debut in light of injuries to Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel, Jade Stighling and Sibahle Maxwane.
Flyhalf Tony Jantjies will make his starting debut after earning his three caps coming off the bench. Prop Conraad van Vuuren is also making his Super Rugby debut as a late replacement for injured Springbok Trevor Nyakane.
Springbok centres Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel will continue their formidable partnership from the series whitewash over France, while scrumhalf Rudy Paige earns a rare start, with André Warner as back-up and likely to earn his first Super Rugby cap.
Though riddled with injuries and denied the experience of Springboks like Nyakane (wrist), Lood de Jager (groin), Handré Pollard (ankle), Ulengo (knee) and Ismaiel (knee), Marais believes he still has a strong side that can take on the Sharks but it will be up to the players to prove their worth.
Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews, Jesse Kriel, Jan Serfontein, Kefentse Mahlo, Tony Jantjies, Rudy Paige, Nic de Jager, Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Conraad van Vuuren, Adriaan Strauss (captain), Lizo Gqoboka.
Bench: Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman, John-Roy Jenkinson, Renaldo Bothma, Shaun Adendorff, André Warner, Burger Odendaal, Tian Schoeman.