PRETORIA - It has been a bittersweet start to this year’s Currie Cup campaign for the Blue Bulls and they face an even tougher task this week when they host the Free State Cheetahs.
After being one of a few teams to enjoy a good start to proceedings with two wins under their belt, against Griquas and the Golden Lions, the Bulls campaign came off the rails with two consecutive losses, against the Sharks and Western Province.
The high-flying Sharks dealt the Bulls a telling blow at Loftus Versfeld on Wednesday in what has been described as the week from hell, where the men from the capital have played three games in seven days.
Then came the crippling blow on Saturday at the hands of Western Province as the Bulls put up a valiant second-half fight but it was not enough to prevent them from losing 45-34.
It was in Saturday’s defeat that the Bulls’ contrasting season was laid bare as they looked dangerous with ball in hand, as was evident in the second half where they managed to run in three tries with wing Kefentse Mahlo crossing the line twice.
But there is an elephant in the room that the Bulls will need to face up to before they host the defending champions Free State Cheetahs on Saturday, and that is their defence and how cheaply they give away tries.
It was Province’s direct and creative running that often saw the Bulls in a huddle under their poles in the first half, a frailty that has dogged them in all of their games thus far.
So porous were the Bulls on defence that they conceded the most tries in a game this season, leaking in six, but their rampant second half attack limited the opposition’s time with possession, and only three points were conceded.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais is standing by his players in the hope they will finally strike a balance in the tough juggling act of attack and defence and complement their ball-in-hand approach with an equally solid performance without the ball.
“Our players want to get better and they don’t want to lose,” Marais said after Saturday’s defeat at Newlands.
“We want to play good attacking rugby but we need to strike a balance between that and defence.
“It is a bit of a quiet changeroom at the moment but we will get it right next weekend.”
With the Cheetahs looming large on the horizon and the Bulls still haunted by losing last year’s Currie Cup final in Bloemfontein, Marais would love nothing more for his side to show their mettle against the very same side that denied them domestic silverware nine months ago.
“Look, seven days in rugby is a long time.
“If you look at the Cheetahs, they lost to Griquas who collected their second win in a week. We must make sure that we are up for it on Saturday or we will get a rugby lesson. With the Cheetahs off to play PRO14 rugby they will be out to make sure they get a string of victories under their belt so they have a good platform for the second round of the Currie Cup.
“The Cheetahs are a very dangerous side and they have lost only two or three guys from their Super Rugby side so if we aren’t at our best we could easily take 50 points against them,” said Marais.
The game against the Cheetahs kicks off at 2pm on Saturday.