PRETORIA – The Bulls have never won a Super Rugby game in Christchurch. And it will be that very fact that coach John Mitchell uses to inspire his team to do the impossible when they face the Crusaders in the heart of New Zealand’s south island tomorrow morning.
Having never won against the Crusaders at home could easily be a daunting task for Mitchell’s men but after the good rugby they played in their loss against the Chiefs last week, the men from Pretoria will fancy their chances of doing the unthinkable.
Mitchell will certainly tap into the impressive and dominant rugby his team played in the first stanza in Hamilton and demand a repeat performance for 80 minutes this time around. The Bulls will want to capitalise on the Crusaders’ dip in form after losing two matches in a row.
Much of the Bulls’ turnaround in playing style and running approach to the game has been credited to Mitchell and he will want to end the tour, during which they have lost two games already, with victory to affirm the progress his team have made.
There will be no better place to do so than in Christchurch against the defending champions who look vulnerable on the back of their recent results.
But Mitchell remains wary of how ruthless the Crusasders can be at home and aside from seeking redemption for their losses, they will also find inspiration from the return of influential All Blacks and captain Sam Whitelock and vice-captain Ryan Crotty.
“I have no idea why (we haven’t won in Christchurch), but I feel it is an extremely exciting opportunity to meet that standard and play above it against the best in the competition,” Mitchell said after naming his side yesterday. “It is an extremely good challenge and not one that we fear.
The Crusaders have never been a flash side but are a great example of teamwork and working hard for each other. It will take a huge effort from us, but it is a challenge we are looking forward to.”
The Bulls also won’t be lacking in motivation with in-form Springbok centre Jesse Kriel looking to make his 50th Super Rugby appearance for the three time champions memorable for the right reasons.
Another exciting player in Springbok Sevens star Tim Agaba will be making his Bulls Super Rugby debut in a loose trio combination that sees the hard-working Thembelani Bholi drop out of the match day team.
Agaba’s presence will not only maintain the Bulls’ dominance in the collision. He has proven handy with ball in hand and will give his side the much-needed inertia to get over the advantage line and also serve as the perfect linkman between the marauding forwards and threatening backs.
“Tim is a really good athlete and came to us from the Sevens with a slight niggle. We have done some foundational work on the tour with him that prevented him from playing earlier.
He is extremely professional and has good leadership skills. We enjoyed his presence on the tour and he plays pretty fast and on the edge. He will use the opportunities to get the defence to have to react,” Mitchell said.
With history weighing heavily against them and a three match losing streak not helping their cause, the Bulls will look to this game to turn their season around and map out a new history for themselves starting with the prized scalp of the Crusaders.
The teams are:
David Havili, Manasa Mataele, Jack Goodhue, Ryn Crotty, George Bridge, Michael Hunt, Mitchell Drummond, Jordan Taufua, Billy Harmon, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Cordie Taylor, Tim Perry.
Replacements: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Oliver Jager, Quinten Strange, Tom Sanders, Bryn Hall, Brett Cameron, Braydon Ennor.
Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Divan Rossouw, Handre Pollard, Embrose Papier, Tim Agaba, Hanro Liebenberg, Roelof Smit, Jason Jenkins, Lood de Jager, Trevor Nyakane, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka, Frans van Wyk, Hendre Stassen, Marco van Staden, Ivan van Zyl, Manie Libbok, Johnny Kotze.