PRETORIA – Judging by the indifferent Currie Cup season the Blue Bulls are having, it comes as no surprise that the next three weeks will be the most important in keeping the team’s title aspirations alive.
As deceiving as their lowly sixth position on the log may suggest, the Bulls could easily make a significant stride on their standing and march ever so closer to those semi-final berths if they manage to get victories over the Golden Lions, Sharks and Western Province respectively.
It will be in their two immediate games away from home – starting with the encounter against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday and followed by a trip to Durban to face the Sharks – that coach John Mitchell will be looking for his side to fire from all cylinders.
Having already lost two matches at home to the Sharks and Free State Cheetahs, the Bulls will be targeting the games away from home as an opportunity to catch up on the dropped points, especially from the first round of the competition.
“We’ve got to pick up away points and we are in a big week of three. We’ve got some big games coming up. I wouldn’t put it down as the most important game of my career, every game is important,” Mitchell said at Thursday’s team announcement at Loftus Versfeld.
And the Bulls’ ability to win away from home was given a timely boost with the return of centre Burger Odendaal to the starting line-up, and he will also take over the captaincy after recovering from injury.
Mitchell has also wasted no time in bringing back the fit-again Warrick Gelant, who starts at fullback ahead of hat-trick hero Manie Libbok – who drops to the bench – while scrumhalf André Warner comes in for Ivan van Zyl in the third change in the Bulls backline.
Former Lions loose forward Jano Venter has been handed his first start since crossing the Jukskei River a month ago, and will be part of a formidable loose trio combination along with Nic de Jager and Jannes Kirsten.
The Bulls will also be spotting a new front row, with Matthys Basson replacing Dayan van der Westhuizen, who drops to the bench, while Pierre Schoeman returns from being rested to replace the injured Lizo Gqoboka.
Odendaal echoed Mitchell’s words of the importance of beating an in-form Lions side for them to remain relevant in the competition.
“I think it is going to be a great challenge this weekend and we want to test ourselves against the best players. I think the Lions have a very good team, and it will be a huge challenge for us to go forward in the Currie Cup,” Odendaal said.
Blue Bulls Team
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Duncan Matthews, 13 Burger Odendaal (captain), 12 JT Jackson, 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 André Warner, 8 Jano Venter, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Matthys Basson, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Bench: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Tim Agaba, 19 Marco van Staden, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Manie Libbok, 22 Johnny Kotze.