PRETORIA - With their play-off ambitions blown away after three consecutive losses, the Bulls won’t be looking at handing out any favours to the Lions and Sharks when they play against the Jaguares at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The second placed South Americans are just three points behind the Lions, who top the South African conference, and are six points ahead of the third placed Sharks with only two rounds of matches remaining. The Bulls could prove to be the king makers in their conference if they beat the Jaguares and give the Lions, who have a bye this weekend, some breathing space ahead of the Jukskei River derby while the Sharks would also benefit handsomely from a Bulls victory as long as they can collect maximum points against the hapless Stormers before facing the Jaguares in Durban.
However, Bulls coach John Mitchell cares less about the fate of the other South African sides with his only focus on making sure that his team finish off their season on a high after suffering losses against the Jaguares, Brumbies and Sunwolves. “Yeah. really it’s not about them, it’s about making sure that we finish the season off with performances we started the season with energy and intent. Ultimately, that is more important and if it happens to look after our opposition that’s great as well. But at the end of the day it’s about us getting the right performance,” said Mitchell.
At the same time, the Jaguares will be eyeing wins in the capital and Durban to catapult them to the top of the conference and ensure that they get a favourable run in the play-offs on home turf. Even though they failed to replicate their Super Rugby form when playing in their national team jersey during the June internationals defeats against Wales and Scotland, Mitchell feels that the Jaguares will be fuelled by an ambition to win the conference and present themselves with a shot at the title.
“They are a good side and obviously they back themselves as a Super Rugby side. The good thing about it is that they are presented with opportunity of becoming one or two in the conference and I guess that energy will be driving them. They play probably a little bit smarter than they do internationally,” Mitchell added.
My favourite Vodacom Bulls Moment— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) July 2, 2018
As part of our 80-year celebrations, we will use the match between the Vodacom Bulls and the Jaguares to pay tribute to those legends who made their mark in Vodacom Bulls and SA Rugby history. #BullsFamily50K pic.twitter.com/cRspaXdQfP
But the focus at Loftus is on making sure that they bring the curtain down on a season that held so much promise with at least a ray of hope for next season and that is by rectifying their leaky defence, which has cost them dearly in their last few games. And while Mitchell and the Loftus faithful have been impressed with the ruthlessness of the Bulls with ball in hand, it is the inability of individuals to make their tackles count that has once again condemned the Bulls to yet another season of not making the play-offs.
“Defensively, we’ve got to improve big time. We are just leaking soft tries. Everyone knows about the injuries and how deep we are digging in our depth. At the end of the day you’ve got a responsibility when you are selected to take pride in your goal line,” Mitchell said.
“Attack comes and goes, it looks nice and puts bums on seats but if you want to win championships you’ve got to hang your head on defence. The most disappointing thing is something we took real pride in the early part of the competition and we’ve seemed to have lost that identity a little bit in the last three performances. Ultimately that will bring a complete performance if we are prepared to dig deep in that area because clearly we can attack.”