Cape Town - The Bulls are quickly realising that they cannot afford any more defeats if they hope to reach the United Rugby Championship play-offs.
That is why this afternoon’s showdown with Munster at Loftus Versfeld (4.05pm kick-off) has been dubbed a “make-or-break” game by both coach Jake White and captain Marcell Coetzee.
The losses to the Stormers and Sharks in Pretoria mean that they must start thinking of bonus-point victories already in the seven remaining round robin games in South Africa – their final league encounter is against the Ospreys in Wales on May 21.
The race for play-off spots is tight. While the top five – Leinster (48), Ulster (45), Glasgow (39), Edinburgh (39) and Munster (39) – are well ahead of the sixth-placed Ospreys (30), the Bulls are 10th on 23 points after 10 matches.
So, White needs his team to start moving into the top-eight play-off positions, starting against Munster.
“I think it’s make or break for us,” the former Springbok coach said after naming an unchanged starting XV yesterday. “The games against Leinster and Connacht away from home showed us the standard of Irish rugby. So, Munster are always in the top three, and are always in the semi-finals or finals.
“It’s the first time we are facing an Irish side at home, and it’s make or break for us. The Sharks are three points ahead of us, and we cannot expect now that they will start losing. We must get our destiny in our own hands, and you do that by winning your home games, which we didn’t do in our last two derbies.”
While Munster coach Johann van Graan virtually grew up at Loftus Versfeld and will have a fair idea of what to expect from the Bulls, White mentioned that he also has access to some inside info from the likes of captain Coetzee, flank Arno Botha and Currie Cup coach Gert Smal, who have worked with Ulster, Munster and the Ireland national team respectively.
Not that White is too concerned with what the men from Limerick are going to do. “We want to try and play a certain way, and we are getting there – slowly, we’re getting there. I think we are getting to the point that we want to get to. We are not quite the finished product yet,” he said.
“We are at home, playing at four ’o clock at Loftus … We can take a bit of that advice, but we’ve still got to get up and play well. We haven’t played a tough, tough game for a while now, and this is a chance to see whether we’ve grown as a team.”
TEAMS FOR LOFTUS VERSFELD
Bulls: 15 Kurt-lee Arendse 14 Cornal Hendricks 13 Lionel Mapoe 12 Harold Vorster 11 Madosh Tambwe 10 Chris Smith 9 Embrose Papier 8 Elrigh Louw 7 Arno Botha 6 Marcell Coetzee 5 Ruan Nortje 4 Walt Steenkamp 3 Jacques van Rooyen 2 Johan Grobbelaar 1 Gerhard Steenekamp.
Bench: 16 Bismarck du Plessis 17 Simphiwe Matanzima 18 Robert Hunt 19 Janko Swanepoel 20 WJ Steenkamp 21 Zak Burger 22 Morné Steyn 23 Canan Moodie.
Munster: 15 Mike Haley 14 Calvin Nash 13 Chris Farrell 12 Rory Scannell 11 Simon Zebo 10 Ben Healy 9 Neil Cronin 8 Alex Kendellen 7 Chris Cloete 6 Jack O’donoghue (captain) 5 Fineen Wycherley 4 Jean Kleyn 3 Stephen Archer 2 Niall Scannell 1 Josh Wycherley.
Bench: 16 Diarmuid Barron 17 Mark Donnelly 18 John Ryan 19 Eoin O’connor 20 John Hodnett 21 Paddy Patterson 22 Jack Crowley 23 Damian de Allende.