PRETORIA – With just a solitary point separating four teams in the South African conference, the Bulls will be going for a ‘double’ victory against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday, according to coach John Mitchell.
Along with the second-placed Jaguares and fourth-placed Sharks, the Bulls find themselves sandwiched in between the teams, but all sharing 24 points, with only points difference separating them on the points table.
And this is where Mitchell believes that his side can gain twice as much as they would in a normal game, with a triumph against the Jaguares certain to take them to second place and leave the South Americans scrambling to secure themselves a playoff berth.
As much as the Bulls will be crossing their fingers that the Sharks also drop points in their game against the Chiefs, they will be to open some breathing space between themselves and the rest of the teams in their conference while hunting down the Lions, who are all but guaranteed a place in the playoffs with a 17-point lead.
“If you can get doubles in this competition, it’s massive strides, especially now that we head into the business part of the season,” Mitchell said.
“We are all vying for the same points and for number one and two. The Lions are there, and the rest of us are trying to create the necessary pressure on them.
“We are all seeking to try and overtake them, and that’s why this competition is going to go down to the wire.”
And after suffering three injuries to vital personnel – with Lood de Jager and Lizo Gqoboka being ruled out for the year, while centre Burger Odendaal is nursing a rib injury – Mitchell has been forced into making some changes to his team for Saturday night’s vital game against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires (11.40pm SA time kickoff).
Flyhalf Handré Pollard will lead the side against the Jaguares and will start at inside centre in place of Odendaal, while Junior Springbok Manie Libbok will get his first start in the No 10 jersey.
Mitchell has also made two positional switches to his pack, with Jason Jenkins moving from flank to the second row to rekindle his lock partnership with RG Snyman, with Thembelani Bholi starting at blindside flank.
Trevor Nyakane moves from tighthead to loosehead prop, with Conraad van Vuuren running out in the No 3 jersey.
Even with the injuries, the fact that they have never won a Super Rugby game in Argentina and facing a Jaguares side who are still riding the crest of the wave after their four-match unbeaten tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Bulls remain full of confidence after their 39-33 win against the Sharks.
They still feel that the South Americans are vulnerable, especially on the discipline front.
“They still give away a lot of penalties. I guess it’s how you can force them to being cynical,” Mitchell said.
“On their southern tour to New Zealand and Australia, not too many teams drove them heavily, and they have given away a lot of penalties there and some yellow cards.
“There are some opportunities there as well, so hopefully we can present a case that tests the referee in that area of the field.
“The field is going to be fast, it is a bit shorter in width. It will be hostile, and the crowd will be heavily in voice.”
15 Warrick Gelant 14 Travis Ismaiel 13 Jesse Kriel 12 Handré Pollard 10 Johnny Kotze 10 Manie Libbok 9 Ivan van Zyl 8 Marco van Staden 7 Thembelani Bholi 6 Roelof Smit 5 RG Snyman 4 Jason Jenkins 3 Conraad van Vuuren 2 Adriaan Strauss 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Bench: 16 Jaco Visagie 17 Nqobi Mxoli 18 Frans van Wyk 19 Hendré Stassen 20 Nic de Jager 21 André Warner 22 JT Jackson 23 Divan Rossouw.