Cape Town - The Blue Bulls may be playing in Bloemfontein, but won’t be expecting “Cheetah rugby” from their opponents in tomorrow’s Currie Cup clash at the Free State Stadium (5.05pm kickoff).
The Pretoria side’s coach, Edgar Marutlulle, said that his beleaguered team are embracing the pressure that is currently sweeping through Loftus Versfeld, and they are confident of turning things around.
While the URC squad only arrived in Belfast yesterday afternoon for Saturday night’s game against Ulster (9.35pm SA time), Marutlulle had to go back to a true Currie Cup line-up, although he was able to call on some grizzled figures for the short trip to Bloemfontein.
While Springbok wing Sbu Nkosi has been rested, prop Lizo Gqoboka will captain the side, while Jacques du Plessis will provide considerable bulk and experience as the No 4 lock.
Muller Uys has been waiting a lengthy period for an opportunity at No 8 and will be keen to prove a point, as will quicksilver scrumhalf Keagan Johannes.
Lionel Mapoe and Wandisile Simelane are a powerful centre pair as well, and will have to provide direction to a young backline that has a green back-three in Franco Knoetze, Quewin Nortjé and Kabelo Mokoena.
“All the URC teams will have their challenges in terms of managing their squads week to week, but I think we will be much more prepared than we were in the first game against the Pumas (which they lost 63-15),” Marutlulle said yesterday.
“Muller has really prepared well over the last couple of weeks, and Keagan is also getting rewarded for some of the stuff that he’s done and brought into the system.
“We look forward to seeing Keagan playing an important role over the weekend from a game management perspective, and also from bringing his unique skill-set to the game.”
But the heat is on the Bulls, who have lost nine out of their last 11 matches across the URC, Champions Cup and Currie Cup, and are smarting from the two defeats to the Pumas and Western Province in particular, due to the big score against the defending champions and the fact that it was a full-strength side that faced the Capetonians.
“As long as I’ve been at the Bulls, there has always been pressure every weekend. It’s irrelevant what the previous result brought, but the pressure is definitely there. But a lot of the time, the pressure is also from other people’s perspective – it isn’t always internally,” Marutlulle said.
“I think some people want to project pressure that they perceive onto you, which isn’t always as accurate as what you might feel internally.
“Pressure is always a privilege, being at the Blue Bulls. There isn’t a single weekend that we don’t have pressure as a Blue Bulls team, so bring on the pressure!
“I think we’ve seen an evolution from the Cheetahs: an ability to manage the game, especially because they’ve had to play in the European competition.
“So, what we’ve analysed from the last couple of games is a much more balanced style in how they play. There is a massive amount of kicking from Ruan Pienaar, Frans Steyn – they kick high kicking metres.
“They don’t necessarily keep possession as what we always used to think of as Cheetahs rugby. I don’t think they play Cheetah rugby that much, as what we all presume Cheetah rugby to be. Big focus on the maul, scrum, and a big kicking game.”
Blue Bulls Team
15 Franco Knoetze 14 Quewin Nortjé 13 Wandisile Simelane 12 Lionel Mapoe 11 Kabelo Mokoena 10 Chris Barend Smit 9 Keagan Johannes 8 Muller Uys 7 Mihlali Mosi 6 Cameron Hanekom 5 Reinhardt Ludwig 4 Jacques du Plessis 3 Robert Hunt 2 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 1 Lizo Gqoboka (captain).
Bench: 16 Joe van Zyl 17 Jacques van Rooyen 18 Sebastian Lombard 19 Juan van der Westhuizen 20 Phumzile Maqondwana 21 Bernard van der Linde 22 Adriaan Joubert 23 Juan Mostert.