PRETORIA - Blue Bulls prop Pierre Schoeman is known as the jester in the team but he says there is nothing that would make him laugh more than seeing his teammates secure themselves a place in the Currie Cup semi-finals after being the butt of many jokes in the competition.
At the same time, though, the baby-faced Schoeman puts on his serious look in a clear admission that beating the Pumas on Friday at Loftus Versfeld won’t be the be-all-and-end-all of the journey they have embarked on with coach John Mitchell.
Even with a bigger goal in mind of returning the Bulls to being the best team in Super Rugby, Schoeman is excited at the prospect of his team making the Currie Cup play-offs, even if it is through the back door.
“The biggest thing for us is to focus on our own structures and plans and implement them for the future. So if it is going to benefit us being in the play-offs now it’s going to happen,” said Schoeman.
While Schoeman might not easily talk about the pressure that has engulfed the team for the better part of this year, it does put a smile on his face and a little giggle as his teammates are playing their best rugby and getting the results after being written off and considered a bunch of has-beens.
“I think there will always be pressure because you want to measure yourself against the best and you want to prosper as an individual. As a team we have a lot of pressure unloaded, meaning that we are enjoying it and working hard but seeing the fruits are bearing at the moment and still going to in the future,” said Schoeman.
And while Schoeman was not part of the Pumas 51-15 mauling of the Bulls in Nelspruit seven weeks ago, it was as clear as daylight to see how the Pumas exploited the Bulls fickle defence, especially from the rolling mauls.
Schoeman, who had sat out to his competitor at loosehead prop, Lizo Gqoboka, is confident the Bulls have rectified their defensive frailties, not only amongst the forwards but as a collective as well.
At the same time Schoeman feels there were sufficient shenanigans going on at the Bulls that the players could hide behind, with then coach Nollis Marais being released from his job along with his management while Mitchell was taking over the reins of the team with many players uncertain about their futures.
But Schoeman says the entire team has bought into Mitchell’s plan both on attack and defence and it has reflected in the way they have played in recent weeks, and continues to be a work in progress.
“Defence comes down to attitude and work rate. The thing is you have to have structures for that as well. Now we have clarity in our roles, structure in our set-pieces so it is something we’ve worked on and everyone has bought into," he added.
"We have this protocol where one cannot hide anymore. So if you are not pulling your weight it will reflect, which is why it is so successful for us at the moment.”
“We get a lot of positive feedback from people saying we are playing Lions and All Blacks rugby but we have to express ourselves on attack and as well as defence. We must be fit enough and take responsibility for our actions and that is what coach Mitchell is trying to get into our heads,” Schoeman said.
What has become abundantly clear is that the Bulls are no longer the butt of jokes, nor are their chances of making the semi-finals a laughing matter.