PRETORIA - To the victors will go the spoils at Loftus on Friday night when the Blue Bulls host the Pumas in what has been dubbed a Currie Cup quarter-final.
Typical of an “all-or-nothing” affair, the team that emerges victorious will not only savour the sweet taste of victory, but also have one foot in the door of the semi-finals as they wait/hope that the third placed Free State Cheetahs deliver a fatal blow to the Golden Lions in their “quarter-final” encounter at Ellis Park on Saturday.
While the Pumas only stand a mathematical chance of reaching the play-offs, the Bulls will be chomping at the bit in the hope that they live to play another week in the oldest domestic competition in world rugby.
The Bulls’ chances are more realistic than the Pumas’ in that John Mitchell’s men only need to guarantee themselves a bonus-point win and pray that the rugby gods smile down on them by handing the Cheetahs victory over a Lions team that are a mere three points ahead of them on the log.
There is also the dark realisation that the Pumas managed to man-handle the Bulls in their 51-15 win in the first round of the competition.
Even though the Bulls have improved vastly from that fateful day, they will be confronted by ghosts from their most recent past while trying to shine a light on a future that ends with a trophy they last won eight years ago.
Mitchell isn’t too bothered by the sense of expectation from the Loftus faithful since he took over seven weeks ago. He is focused on seeing greater improvement among his players as individuals and as a team.
That is not to say that the former All Blacks coach cares little for making the play-offs, but what is of paramount concern is putting a foundation in place that will lead to the restoration of the Bulls’ dominance in domestic and Super Rugby in the future.
“It is really important not to get caught up in that because ultimately we know where we are at and what we’ve got to do,” said Mitchell. “We understand our limitations. We clearly have got better and we’ll find out whether it is good enough to be the best in this competition.
“It is exciting, we are kind of in a quarter-final so that is also a different kind of benchmark and it will be interesting to see how we manage and handle that as well. It has been a tough year for the Bulls and for the guys, all I focus on is them individually and us collectively improving.
“We’ve got to deserve it and we are heading in the right direction and it remains to be seen whether we do deserve within this competition. But the guys are hungry and they are motivated to get better.”