Johannesburg — The Bulls will have to front-up in all departments, especially in their physicality, this weekend if they are to stay ahead of an unbeaten Free State Cheetahs side, assistant coach Hayden Groepes argued on Tuesday.
The Currie Cup has entered the business end of its season where the men are separated from the boys and where any slip up could mean the difference between hosting a home semi-final and final, or travelling out of one’s comfort zone to play a KO match in a more hostile environment. For the Bulls it is no different, despite a commanding lead that separates them and the Cheetahs from the chasing pack.
Only one point bisects the men from Pretoria and the men from Bloemfontein at the top of the Cup standings – the Bulls leading with 42 points, but the Cheetahs holding the advantage with a game in hand. Both teams are in action this weekend against the Pumas and Griquas, respectively.
Said Groepes: The Cheetahs are the unbeaten side in this competition.
“But where we are as a team, we certainly just have to focus on the Pumas now and make sure that we do the job on Friday night. We still have three weeks to prep for the Cheetahs and when we get there, hopefully, we will be well prep for that also.”
The Bulls know they will have to defeat a desperate team from Nelspruit, who have their own play-off ambitions, if they themselves are going to keep pressure on the Cheetahs for that top spot and earn a home semi-final and possible home final.
The defending champions are off a hard-fought victory over the Lions the last time they played in the tournament, and Groepes admits that they will have to overcome the visitors on Friday night at Loftus Versveld (kick-off 7pm) by standing tall in the contact areas.
“To be honest, I don’t think there is going to be much difference between the Lions and the Pumas,” said the newly appointed Bulls Under-20 head coach.
“We will have to match-up physically and I thought we did pretty well against the Lions, where we had to manage the game. We had to match-up in that final 40 and it will be no different against the Pumas ….
“I think what the Pumas have as a good strength is that they are a settled side and there might be certain challenges that we have with the Pumas that we didn’t necessarily have against the Lions. I believe that we have to look after ourselves and make sure that our processes are in place going into Friday’s game.”
The Bull also have one eye on the United Rugby Championship (URC) quarter-final against the Sharks next weekend.
Gropes inferred that although director of rugby Jake White and Cup head coach Gert Smal had not yet finalised the team, it was more than likely that the stalwarts of the URC squad would make an appearance against the Pumas.
This, of course, is not surprising. The Bulls have mixed and matched their matchday 23 as required throughout the season in the Cup, but with the Sharks on the horizon it would not be outside the realms of possibility that they might be tempted to forgo match-fitness due to the risk involved.
“Between Gert and Jake,” Groepes said, “they will certainly like to make sure that the full squad is running fit ... I believe they (the URC players) will look to get some good time under the belt for those that need some game time.”