PRETORIA – The Bulls did the Lions a huge favour in entrenching their status as the top side in the South African conference when the men from the capital beat the Jaguares 43-34 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
However, that will be the last favour the Bulls will be handing out to their neighbours as they prepare for their last game of the season when they take on the Lions at Ellis Park this weekend.
While the Bulls will have nothing to gain or lose in their upcoming derby against the Lions, it is Swys de Bruin’s side that will have all the pressure of having to win to secure top spot in the conference and ensure that they play their knockout games at home.
Even though the Bulls landed a telling blow on the Jaguares’ chances of finishing on top of the log, it was just a matter of keeping the South Americans at bay and not enough to thwart their challenge as they are still only four points behind the Lions.
Bulls coach John Mitchell will return to the venue and coach against the very team where it all began for him in South Africa but the New Zealander cares little about sentiment and wants his team to close out their Super Rugby campaign with the same intent and promise they started with when they beat the Hurricanes at Loftus.
“They are the best team in the conference and as a former Lions coach we might have done them a favour.
“This Lions feed on certain things and there are certain things that are very important to them and create momentum. We’ve taken a look at them as a coaching group, they are very good. We’ve got a chance to go to Ellis Park and finish with the same intent we started,” Mitchell said.
And the Bulls will take a lot of confidence from the manner in which they came from behind against the Jaguares to erase a 19 point deficit and comfortably record a win to end a three match losing streak that ironically began in Buenos Aires against the South Americans.
As much as the Bulls have had to rely on their attack for a greater part of the season to win them games, it has been their defence that has crippled them and ultimately led to the end of their play-off ambitions in the three matches leading up to Saturday’s bruising affair at Loftus.
But this time around, the Bulls defence held strong after leaking 19 points in the first quarter of the game and as the game wore on, the men in blue grew stronger in stopping the Jaguares behind the advantage line and eventually turning that pressure into points in their favour.
At least two of the Bulls’ six tries came as a result of their defence while Mitchell still commended his side on their ability to be lethal with ball in hand even though it was their defence that won the match and earned them much respect.
“I think Pots (Pote Human) was chewing his nails on the right and H (Hayden Groepes) was looking for the whiskey bottle at that point. But we stuck to our processes and that’s what I’m pleased about. At times we’ve shown immaturity around injustice and decisions and we’ve shown impatience when things don’t work. But we stuck at it and the boys emptied the tank and you can’t ask for anything more. Our whole week was designed around making sure that our defensive plans fed our attack.
Our attack at times wasn’t brilliant but there were two or three tries in that compilation of tries that were outstanding. But it all came from the defence,” added Mitchell.