JOHANNESBURG - It has been five years since the Bulls last won a Super Rugby match in New Zealand. Try, try and try as they did on many doomed tours abroad but they failed dismally.
But there is some optimism within the Bulls camp that this could be the season where they break their drought in the Land of the Long White Cloud and that will come from them thinking like New Zealanders ahead of their encounter against the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
With head coach John Mitchell born, bred, played and coached in New Zealand, the Bulls could just have an ace up their sleeve that could just be the end of their woes and making of their tour and maybe even their season.
Captain Burger Odendaal has made a timely return to the team after spending two weeks on the sidelines with a rib injury and the abrasive centre believes that testing themselves and being successful against the Chiefs and Crusaders could just be the catalyst in making their season.
“It is something that we said to each other early in the week, it is guys who will probably play at the business end of the season. If you can play them early and see what you will be up against in the end, it is great to know that and get the experience from the games,” said Odendaal who replaces Johnny Kotze in the starting line-up.
We want to make this a successful tour, we haven’t toured well in the past couple of seasons. It will be important for the team’s morale just to get a good tour behind us."
And the very man, Mitchell, who will be tasked with plotting the demise of his former compatriots will be drumming it into his players’ heads in the lead up to Friday’s game that their game has got to be as strong as their head.
Mitchell has beefed up his team with the inclusion of Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane starting at tighthead in place of Frans van Wyk while the hard man of the Bulls pack Thembelani Bholi makes a return to the starting team at blindside flank.
Another change in the backline comes on the wing where Divan Rossouw is elevated to the starting team ahead of Duncan Matthews.
Mental and physical strength
Mitchell is calling on his troops to stand up physically and be willing to go the long haul but more importantly, he has also appealed to their mental strength and character as a team to come to the fore if they are to overcome the Chiefs in their own back yard.
“My focus and our focus has been around making sure our preparation is right first and foremost and making sure our mindset is right,” said Mitchell.
"And also making sure that when you come play in New Zealand it is not about the physical aspect of the game, it’s actually more mentally and making sure you have the right focus in the right areas. We are going to have to go for 100 minutes, we are going to have to be as accurate as we can when we play in New Zealand."
At the same time Mitchell is very much aware of the threats that the Chiefs will pose in the game and over and above the physical aspect, the Bulls will have to clever and quick at the points of breakdown if they are to keep the Chiefs at bay.
“I think this game will be extremely fast, very physical and around the breakdown the Chiefs are the best in the competition in terms of slowing the ball down and it has always been a strength of theirs. We know exactly what we are going into and we’ll be looking to meet it with the same sort of intensity,” Mitchell added.
Bulls team: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Divan Rossouw, Handre Pollard, Andre Warner, Hanro Liebenberg, Thembelani Bholi, Roelof Smit, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman. Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka, Conraad van Vuuren, Jason Jenkins/Tim Agaba, Marco van Staden, Embrose Papier, Manie Libbok, Johnny Kotze.