PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY 03: Akona Ndungane of the Bulls tackled by Sarel Pretoruis of the Cheetahs during the Super Rugby match between Vodacom Bulls and Toyota Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on May 03, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)

The Bulls may have passed the character test put to them by the Cheetahs last weekend, but today they will face a test of a different kind, whether they are real contenders for the play-offs or just pretenders.

This week, Bulls captain Victor Matfield again voiced the Bulls’ desire to win the competition regardless of their unconvincing performances so far this season.

But before the Bulls can begin to think of attaining their lofty goal of hoisting a fourth Super Rugby title, they will need to get into the play-offs and wrestle their way into the final.

Standing in their way are the Stormers, Brumbies, Lions and Melbourne Rebels and tonight at Loftus Versfeld they will need to muster all of their best performances this season and play out of their skins if they are to beat the Stormers.

While the Stormers’ bottom-of-the-log placing may give cause for complacency, it will be important for the Bulls to recognise that the Stormers are a different beast when playing in the north-south derby.

There would have been warning bells for the Bulls when the Stormers beat the much-vaunted Highlanders last weekend and if the Stormers improve on that performance, the Bulls will have their hands full.

Add to that the heightened emotion of this being one of the most fiercely contested derbies in the country, the Bulls will not only need to keep their emotions in check but be measured, patient, accurate and precise in their execution.

The Bulls’ inability to close out games has cost them dearly in the recent weeks and while the margins between winning and losing have been extremely close, Frans Ludeke’s men can no longer afford any further slip-ups.

The fact that they have not lost a game yet at Loftus will count in their favour, but only from a psychological point of view, and it will be advisable that they focus primarily on what they need to do to remain unbeaten at home.

Ludeke has been frank with his expectations of his players and has called for them to play smart rugby tonight if they are to get the desired result and keep destiny firmly in their hands.

“We need to improve on last week’s performance at home. We are still in the race and we would like to keep it that way. We need to play well to ensure that we get the result over the weekend.

“They are a quality side still with some international players. It is two teams that know each other very well so there won’t be any secrets. We saw in the last few weeks that they kick a little bit less and are positive with ball in hand. We will have to adjust in the game and it will come down to decision-making,” said Ludeke. - Weekend Argus