Beat Pumas and Mitchell’s men can hope for semis
TO THE victors will go the spoils!
That will be the scenario when the Blue Bulls host the Pumas in what has been dubbed a Currie Cup quarterfinal at Loftus Versfeld tonight.
Typical of an “all or nothing” affair, it will be the team that emerges victorious that will not only savour the sweet taste of victory but they will also have one foot in the door of the semi-finals and lie in wait that the third placed Free State Cheetahs deliver a fatal blow to the Golden Lions in their “quarterfinal” encounter at Ellis Park tomorrow.
While the Pumas only stand a mathematical chance of getting into the playoffs via the back door, it will be the Bulls who will be chomping at the bit in the hope they live to play another week in the oldest domestic competition in world rugby.
The Bulls’ reality is more hopeful than that of the Pumas in that John Mitchell’s men only need guarantee themselves a bonus point win and pray the rugby gods smile down on them by handing the Cheetahs victory over a Lions team that are a mere three points ahead of them on the log.
However, a win for the Lions could put the spanner in the works for the Bulls as they will rely on a couple of permutations that must see the Cheetahs being denied both bonus points and at worst, get just one to be equal on points with only points difference separating the teams.
At the same time, there is also the dark reality of how the Pumas managed to manhandle the Bulls in their 51-15 win in the first round of the competition in Nelspruit and even though the Bulls have improved vastly from that fateful day, they will be confronted by ghosts from their most recent past while trying to shine light on a future that ends with a trophy they last won eight years ago.
Mitchell couldn’t be bothered much about the sense of expectation the Loftus faithful have had in their team since he took over seven weeks ago and is focused on seeing greater improvement amongst his players as individuals and as a team.
It is not to say, though, that the former All Blacks coach cares little about the possibility of making the playoffs, but what is of paramount concern is putting in place the foundation that will see a return of the Bulls dominance in domestic and Super Rugby in the future.
“It is really important not to get caught up in that because ultimately we know where we are at and what we’ve got to do,” said Mitchell.
“We understand our limitations.
“We clearly have got better and we’ll find out whether it is good enough to be the best in this competition. It is exciting, we are kind of in a quarterfinal, so that is also a different kind of benchmark and it will be interesting to see how we manage and handle that as well ...
“If I was just to concern myself with the log or a cup or a non-cup then to me it is the wrong way to go about it. We’ve got to deserve it and we are heading in the right direction and it remains to be seen whether we do deserve within this competition. But the guys are hungry and they are motivated as well to get better.”
BLUE BULLS: Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews, Burger Odendaal (captain), JT Jackson, Johnny Kotze, Marnitz Boshoff, Ivan van Zyl, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba, Marco van Staden, Aston Fortuin, Ruben van Heerden, Conraad van Vuuren, Edgar Marutlulle, Pierre Schoeman. REPLACEMENTS: Johan Grobbelaar, Lizo Gqoboka, Jano Venter, Boom Prinsloo, Piet van Zyl, Tony Jantjies, Travis Ismaiel
PUMAS: Gerrit Smit, Selom Gavor, Jerome Pretorius, Hennie Skorbinski, Ruwellyn Isbel, Kobus Marais, Stefan Ungerer; Willie Engelbrecht, Nardus van der Walt, Chris Cloete, Hugo Kloppers, Jannie Stander, Pieter Scholtz, Marko Janse van Rensburg, Khwezi Mona. REPLACEMENTS: Frankie Herne, De-Jay Terblanche, Cameron Lindsay, Hilton Lobberts, Francois Kleinhans, Reynier van Rooyen, Gerrie Labuschagne