Bulls' Lizo Gqoboka is tackled by Billy Meakes of Rebels last week's Super Rugby at Loftus Versfeld. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
If ever there was going to be a time during this year’s Super Rugby competition that the Bulls’ mettle to go all the way was to be put to the test, then it is now.

The former three-time champions have shown enough in recent weeks to prove that they have turned the corner and given enough time and resources to coach John Mitchell, they will be a force again in the competition.

There have been more than enough signs that within their evolution from no-hopers, they can seriously mount a title challenge especially with a string off home games ahead of them, and on the back of an inspiring three wins against the Stormers, Sharks and Melbourne Rebels.

And, surely, with their season-opening win against the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld still fresh in the memory bank, they will fancy their chances of pulling off yet another upset against another New Zealand giant in the form of the Highlanders at Loftus today (5.15pm kick-off).

While harping on what surprisingly unfolded two months ago on a wet afternoon at Loftus won’t be enough to deliver the Bulls victory, it will though inspire more than sufficient belief that they cannot only box toe-to-toe against the Highlanders but can tempt fate and march on to victory.

“It is a long way away but belief does help and we are at home which is important to us. We are probably more cohesive and confident since that round as well even with some changes. So that builds good belief,” said Mitchell.

However, the coach is not oblivious to the might the Highlanders have shown this season and with the calibre of players in their team. Every player in the Bulls team will need to front up and produce their best rugby individually and as a collective.

“These Highlanders are at you the whole time. They are the one side in the competition that make use of every bit of talent that they have. They’ve got some very good players and the rest of their teammates make the most out of their talent just through fantastic attitude,” Mitchell added.

Furthermore, the Bulls have shown enough in their matches on tour against New Zealand opposition, namely in the Chiefs and Crusaders, to suggest that they have the beating of some of the best teams in the competition and their suitability to playing both with and without the ball has been an ally in their victories of late.

Such has been the Bulls' walk of revival this season that they have been as lethal with ball in hand as any of the top teams in the competition while their biggest asset has been their ability to stop opposition dead in their feet.

In a matter of seven days, Mitchell’s side were ruthless on attack as they tore apart the Sharks in a dominant display of total rugby in their 40-10 win in Durban. And a week later they subdued the Rebels with a steely defensive effort coupled with the maturity to keep their discipline and grind out victory even in unconducive circumstances.

Armed with that, the Bulls will face the ultimate test of who they are and whether they are ready to dine at the competition’s top table and do so with the conviction of a side that belongs without any doubts.

“I think we both enjoy playing without the ball as well. So that tells you it will be a good arm-wrestle as both sides are capable with the ball in hand too,” said Mitchell.

“But we have demonstrated that we are comfortable without the ball and can get results and hurt teams.

“A lot of it will come down to the crumbs and the possession that is gained from the fracturedness of the game and I guess it'll be who handles those moments and precious situations the best,” Mitchell added about the traits that they share with the Highlanders and which are likely to determine the outcome of today’s encounter.

LINE-UPS

Bulls: Warrick Gelant, Divan Rossouw, Jesse Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Johnny Kotze, Handré Pollard, Ivan van Zyl, Thembelani Bholi, Jason Jenkins, Marco van Staden, Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss, Lizo Gqoboka

Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Frans van Wyk, Conraad van Vuuren, Hendré Stassen, Nic de Jager, Embrose Papier, Manie Libbok, Travis Ismaiel

Highlanders: Fletcher Smith, Ben Smith (co-captain), Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock, Dillon Hunt, Elliot Dixon, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown

Replacements: Ash Dixon (co-captain), Aki Seiuli, Kalolo Tuiloma, Alex Ainley, Shannon Frizell, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Sio Tomkinson

Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)

Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ), AJ Jacobs (SA)

TMO: Willie Vos (SA)

TV: SS1


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