PRETORIA - The week’s rest that the Blue Bulls enjoyed so early in their Currie Cup campaign could prove to be what they needed ahead of three tough fixtures against the Golden Lions, Sharks and the Western Province - all of these in a matter of seven days.
While the Lions (who the Bulls play this weekend) are just two points ahead of them, the Sharks (who the Bulls face next week Wednesday) on the same number of points and WP (scheduled for next week Saturday) languishing at the bottom of the log, the men in blue will need to put their best foot forward to overcome their threats.
The Lions and Sharks have already played two games and suffered what seemed to be a minor setback in their start to their campaigns, losing to the Pumas and Free State Cheetahs respectively before coming back with emphatic wins in the second round.
WP have only played one game and that was a loss on Sunday to the defending champions the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
The Bulls were dealt a heavy blow when captain Ruan Steenkamp was ruled out for the remainder of the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in training at Loftus Versfeld on Monday.
Steenkamp missed the Bulls opening game of the season against the Griquas in Kimberley as he was still recovering from a niggling injury sustained during the Super Rugby season and his absence will hit the Bulls particularly hard because of their thin stocks at openside flank.
Roelof Smit is still a month away from returning after suffering a knee injury in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.
The unavailability of Steenkamp and Smit will mean that the Bulls will face the Lions and Sharks with only two recognised flanks in Shaun Adendorff and Nic de Jager, with former Sevens star Boom Prinsloo also in the mix to wear the No 6 jersey.
Nollis Marais will also have to deal with another mini-crisis at hooker. First choice Jaco Visagie is suffering from a shoulder injury, while Edgar Marutlulle still has another week of rehabilitation left, with Cornel Els also on the casualty list. Jan-Henning Campher will in all likelihood get the nod to start at No 2, with Junior Springbok hooker Johan Grobbelaar in the running to get his Currie Cup debut.
But the Bulls would have taken a lot of confidence from their 51-45 win over Griquas and they will fancy their chances of taking some points off the Lions, whose senior team is still involved with Super Rugby as they prepare to host Saturday’s final against the Crusaders from New Zealand.
Another big boost to the team’s confidence is the return to training of Springbok wing Jamba Ulengo, centre Dries Swanepoel and utility back Johnny Kotze. The Bulls will also have Springbok tourist Lizo Gqoboka, now recovered from post-concussion symptoms sustained in the closing weeks of Super Rugby.