Cape Town — Milestone or farewell games often go wrong for the celebrating player and team, but Blue Bulls coach Jake White hopes that Morné Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis won’t suffer that fate in Saturday’s Currie Cup clash against the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld (3pm kickoff).
It is a massive game in the context of their season, as the Pretoria side have to win to advance to the semi-finals.
It is as simple as that, and although the Bulls could still host a final at Loftus by finishing third on the log, winning their semi-final and having the Pumas — who beat Griquas 27-17 on Friday to reach the last-four — emerge victorious in their playoff, this is likely to be the last home game for Steyn and Du Plessis before they retire.
The legendary Bulls flyhalf was named in the starting team by White on Friday, while the veteran hooker will play off the bench.
“You often see that it happens as well too, depending on how you look at it. One of the greatest players, Richie McCaw, retired after winning the World Cup, John Eales retired after a World Cup win,” White said.
“I know that this is the last (league) round of the competition, and if all goes well, we could still play the final in Pretoria. It’s been one of those seasons — there are so many permutations, and if we get a good win, and win the semi-final, we could get a home final.
“I am looking at the glass half-full. It’s wonderful to talk about them. I’ve known Bismarck since he was 19 and I have coached him as a Springbok, at Montpellier, Sharks and Bulls. He has been an unbelievable role model for the youngsters and still wins the fitness components that we want him to do.
“I’ve had a short time with Morné, but what he has proved — and it’s well documented — is just how hard he’s had to work. He wasn’t as gifted as a kicker when he joined the Bulls, and his record is phenomenal.”
The former Springbok coach said that sentiment had played a part in Steyn’s selection, adding that he wanted to see the Loftus hero “walk out of the front door” of the famous stadium, where he has brought great joy to Bulls and Bok fans alike over the years.
But there is also the small matter of beating a highly competitive Cheetahs side to make it into the semi-finals.
The Bloemfontein outfit will be missing veteran halfback Ruan Pienaar due to a family bereavement — which sees Siya Masuku start at flyhalf.
But they will be confident of repeating their 32-7 first-round victory over the Bulls, having already claimed a home playoff.
“The last time we played them — and I heard Hawies (Fourie, Cheetahs coach) talking on a show — they are very good at the maul. We conceded lots of penalties the last time and gave them… I think they scored three maul tries against us, and in the last four games, 95 percent of their tries have come from the lineout, and 90 percent of those have come from a maul,” White said.
“We have to make sure we are very accurate in our decisions, that we don’t give penalties away, and we don’t give them entries (into the 22). If we do give them entries, we must stop their maul.
“I know it sounds simple, but they have been doing that very well, it’s working for them, and I can’t see them changing now.
“The destiny is in our hands, and no bonus points (required) — we can win by one point, and then we are in the playoffs.
“We’ve been in knockout mode for probably six weeks, as we had one win after six rounds — after four rounds, we had three points. So, we’ve probably been in knockout mode for a long time, and tomorrow is no different: it’s make or break.”
Teams For Loftus Versfeld
Blue Bulls: 15 Johan Goosen 14 Cornal Hendricks 13 Stedman Gans 12 Harold Vorster 11 David Kriel 10 Morné Steyn 9 Embrose Papier 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Cyle Brink 6 Marcell Coetzee (captain) 5 Ruan Nortjé 4 Ruan Vermaak 3 Mornay Smith 2 Jan-Hendrik Wessels 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Bench: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Francois Klopper 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 Nizaam Carr 21 Keagan Johannes 22 Chris Smith 23 Wandisile Simelane.
Cheetahs: 15 Tapiwa Mafura 14 Daniel Kasende 13 David Brits 12 Reinhardt Fortuin 11 Cohen Jasper 10 Siya Masuku 9 Rewan Kruger 8 Friedle Olivier 7 Siba Qoma 6 Gideon van der Merwe 5 Victor Sekekete (captain) 4 Rynier Bernardo 3 Conraad van Vuuren 2 Marnus van der Merwe 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Bench: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen 17 Alulutho Tshakweni 18 Hencus van Wyk 19 Jeandré Rudolph 20 George Cronjé 21 Daniel Maartens 22 Zinedine Booysen 23 Robert Ebersohn.