Their fight won’t be a matter of serving revenge on the Jaguares, who they face at Loftus Versfeld today, nor will it be a case of them forcing their hand as king makers to the South African conference winner. The fight that the Bulls face will come from within.
Firstly it will be a moment for the team to prove to themselves and their loyal fans that they are worthy of a better finishing in this year’s Super Rugby competition had it not been for a few close encounters that did not go their way.
And then there is that individual battle within every player in the system to prove to their hard and never satisfied task master John Mitchell, pictured, that they are good enough to be at the Bulls and play their part in returning the team back to the top of Super Rugby.
So when a different but capable Bulls team runs out for the last time at home in this year’s Super Rugby competition, the Jaguares should be wary that their opposition pose the same threat they did at the beginning of the season when they beat the Hurricanes and at the same time prepare themselves for a team that has their backs firmly against the wall after three consecutive defeats.
“Nothing changes, at the end of the day, we are still out to be the best and just because we missed out on the finals, we don’t chuck out what we are good at,” says Mitchell.
“We have had five wins and probably had six games that have not gone our way closely, so if we had nailed those we would be in a totally different position so you have to take the good with the bad.
“That is not about chucking out what we do because there is a lot of things here that we do well, and ultimately at the end of the day it is about the athlete to make sure he meets the standards.”
While it is true that a porous defence has cost the Bulls dearly particularly in their last three matches against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, Brumbies at Loftus and Sunwolves in Singapore, the reality is that most of their top players have been ravaged by injuries and the lack of depth and quality of players within the system was never going to be adequate to sustain the team’s ambition of making the play-offs.
Besides falling off the bus in their most recent games, Mitchell feels that his team dropped the ball during the season with unnecessary defeats to the Lions, Reds, Chiefs and even Highlanders which often had the Bulls playing catch up until they ran out of steam.
“Nothing has gone wrong, we just haven’t nailed five or six games that were within our grasp,” Mitchell added.
“That is the only thing that will determine where we sit now. We fell short on five or six occasions where we could have won and that is why we sit here now talking about missing out on finals.
“So it could have easily been sitting on 10 wins at this point. At the end of the day we have suffered an enormous amount of injuries to senior players - eight injuries to forwards for long periods of time of the competition, so that is telling you our depth has not been good enough in the club to sustain and present ourselves at finals time.”
While the Jaguares are no team to be laughed off and will come to the nation’s capital with lofty ambitions of leaving South Africa in a week’s time firmly on top of the conference, it is opposition like the Bulls who have nothing to lose that often inflict the most damage to team’s still in the running.
“They are a tough side to play against. It is always a scrap and you have to pitch up physically and must take your opportunities,” said Bulls captain Handre Pollard.
“They will come with a lot of confidence and a side with confidence is dangerous but can be stopped. We are ready for them and looking forward to the challenge.”
Bulls: Warrick Gelant, Jamba Ulengo, Jesse Kriel, Johnny Kotze, Divan Rossouw, Handre Pollard (capt), Embrose Papier, Hanro Liebenberg, Jannes Kirsten, Marco van Staden, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Conraad van Vuuren, Jaco Visagie, Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Simphiwe Matanzima/Matthys Basson, Morne Smit, Thembelani Bholi, Nic de Jager, Ivan van Zyl, Manie Libbok, Dries Swanepoel
Jaguares: Emiliano Boffelli, Bautista Delguy, Matias Moroni, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano, Nicolas Sanchez, Gonzalo Bertranou, Javier Ortega Desio, Tomas Lezana, Pablo Matera (capt), Matias Alemanno, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy, Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: Julian Montoya, Javier Diaz, Santiago Medrano, Tomas Lavanini, Marcos Kremer, Martin Landajo, Matias Orlando, Sebastian Cancelliere
Referee: Egon Seconds