JOHANNESBURG - The Bulls won’t be losing any sleep over the possible inclusion of the world’s best rugby player Beauden Barrett to the Hurricanes team that will play against them in their Super Rugby encounter at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Barrett has been nothing short of invincible in the past two years leading the Hurricanes to Super Rugby honours in 2016 before establishing himself as the All Blacks number one flyhalf and the man to keep them at the pinnacle of world rugby.
Even though Barrett is a doubtful starter, news coming out of the Hurricanes camp is that the incumbent All Blacks number 10 will feature in some form or the other at Loftus even if it is from the bench.
But the Bulls aren’t being rattled around the hype of Barrett and his much vaunted teammates coming to raid their kraal and instead the men in blue are relishing and embracing the challenge of taking on one of the strongest sides in the competition.
Bulls coach John Mitchell is fully aware of what Barrett can do to his team in his first game in charge of the three time champions but will be more bothered about how his team fares in this their first outing of the season.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he features at some point. He is world class and a high performance athlete so I wouldn’t think he is too short of a gallop. I have read in the media that he is still good for 40 minutes. If he plays that is great, even better. You want this competition to have the best players playing,” said Mitchell.
While the Bulls had a porous season last year and suffered some heavy defeats at the hands of the New Zealand teams, Mitchell has quickly dismissed the notion about their first game being a make-or-break for the remainder of the season.
If anything, the Bulls will seek to measure their progress since last year and what they have done during the off season on how they are able to be competitive and follow their processes against a foe that has all but mastered the art of playing the game.
“New Zealand sides have set the standard in this competition since 2014 and they just keep getting better and better. But the competition doesn’t come down to one game but it is important to get the right performance so you can build from it,” Mitchell added.
“I actually think it is cool starting off against a New Zealand side because it creates greater attention to detail because they have so many more attacking threats and they can expose at any point in time without the ball. If you don’t look after the ball as well they can hurt you. We’ve got our plan as well. The guys are nice and calm and we’ll take each day as it comes and rip into it on Saturday.”
Mitchell is under no illusion what it is going to take for his side to be successful on Saturday and over and above a collective effort from all 23 players, they will also need to play until the final whistle.
Their intensive preseason programme which honed in on conditioning and having the players at their healthiest could just be enough to see the Bulls through.
“You are never comfortable but the important thing is to build confidence in people and team cohesion. We’ve made some good strides in those areas but against New Zealand teams you gonna have to go the full 80. You gonna have to play the total minutes and that is what this game will come down to the ability to play right to the end,” said Mitchell.
Meanwhile, Springbok wing Jamba Ulengo underwent a “mild procedure”to his knee in Sweden last week and is expected to be back on the field after two months while centre Franco Naude had a shoulder operation and will be out for four months.
Springbok Sevens forward Tim Agaba (hamstring) and locks Aston Fortuin and Jason Jenkins (both AC joint) will join the team next week ahead of the game against the Lions.