WHILE Lionel Mapoe won’t have to face Ireland star Bundee Aki on Friday, he and the rest of the Bulls team will have to deal with rainy conditions in Galway in their United Rugby Championship clash against Connacht at The Sportsground (8.35pm kick-off).
The Bulls are trying to find their feet in the new URC, and after their 31-3 defeat at the hands of Leinster last weekend, they will have to find their rhythm quickly against Connacht to make a success of their four-match tour.
Perhaps the wet conditions will suit the Bulls, who were caught out by the speed at which Leinster played on Saturday in dry conditions at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
A slower game would allow their heavy pack and big ball-carriers such as No 8 Elrigh Louw, flanks Arno Botha and Marcell Coetzee, and props Gerhard Steenekamp and Mornay Smith to have a greater impact at close quarters.
With Irish centre Aki still sidelined with a neck injury, Mapoe may have a slightly easier time of it in the backline, but the Bulls No 13 knows that the Currie Cup champions will need to make a vast improvement to emerge victorious on Friday. Connacht lost their URC opener 33-21 to Cardiff, but that was in Wales, and they will be much more formidable in familiar surroundings in Galway.
“We just came off a high in South Africa, and we enjoyed it and had a week off. Then coming back this side, it was tough, obviously. But we prepared as well as we could. I just think at some point, we let ourselves down in some facets,” Mapoe said from Ireland this week.
“But there are a lot of things that we can work on, and we know we are better than that. If you look at the score, it’s not a reflection of who we are as a team.”
Mapoe has been in top form for the Bulls since returning from French club rugby a few months ago, and has rekindled his old Lions midfield partnership with Harold Vorster.
But the 33-year-old is fully aware that they will have to get used to the increased intensity of rugby in Europe, compared to the drastically slower tempo in the Currie Cup.
“The transition was actually very easy. Me and Harold have come a long way, and just the team also accepting me … I’ve been in teams where there’s an unhappiness, but it was a different story when I came to the Bulls – everybody was inviting me in their circle and accepting me, and it was pretty awesome for me,” the former Bok centre said. “That made it easier for me to just play my game and play my rugby. I’m starting to feel like I’m getting into the shape I want to be. But I always work to go to the next level. It’s been very exciting.
“We came off a good campaign in the Currie Cup, and now there are new challenges to face in this competition. We always knew the conditions were going to be challenging, the teams were going to be different, the refereeing different. We just have to adapt ourselves to play – not make silly mistakes,” concluded Mapoe.