Reputations on the line as Bulls bid to end poor season on a high
PRETORIA: With no prospect of making the Super Rugby play-offs and nothing but pride left to play for, Bulls captain Adriaan Strauss has urged his team to throw caution to the wind and to freely express themselves when they play the Sharks in Durban tomorrow.
The Bulls have endured one of their worst seasons in Super Rugby with only three wins in 12 matches and their woeful campaign has been compounded by a record loss to the Crusaders at home and a maiden loss to the lowly Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Strauss wants the Bulls’ last throw of the dice in the competition to be meaningful, not only for outgoing coach Nollis Marais, who will be relieved of his duties at the end of the season, but also to regain the gloss the team has lost this year.
While there will be no need for Strauss to motivate his team in their remaining games against the Sharks, Southern Kings and Stormers, the men from Loftus Versfeld will still need to put up a fighting performance ahead of the arrival of new executive for rugby and former All Blacks coach John Mitchell next month.
“We still understand the responsibility to play good rugby,” said Strauss.
“The shackles are a bit off at the moment and we need to go out there and express ourselves and play with intent. We’ve got three games left and we need to show that intent and passion on the field.”
As much as many of the players will be playing for their livelihood at Loftus under Mitchell, Strauss will want to close the door on what has been a testing two years in his captaincy of the Bulls and the Springboks.
After calling time on his international career at the end of last year after the Boks’ worst season ever, Strauss will be sitting out the domestic season in a bid to return fitter and stronger next season in Super Rugby, where he hopes to lead the Bulls to better results and hopefully a place in the playoffs.
“No, it is not my last three games. I’m not playing Currie Cup but I still got some time left,” he said.
Tomorrow night’s game will be an opportunity for some of the lesser known Bulls players to make their mark, with yet another wing, Kefentse Mahlo, making his Super Rugby debut in light of injuries to Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ismaiel, Jade Stighling and Sibahle Manxwane.
Flyhalf Tony Jantjies will also make his starting debut after earning his three caps off the bench, with prop Conraad van Vuuren also making his debut as a late replacement for injured Springbok Trevor Nyakane.
The men from the capital will be strengthened by the presence of Bok centres Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel, who will continue their formidable partnership from the Springboks’ series whitewash of France, while scrumhalf Rudy Paige earns a rare start, with Andre Warner as back-up and likely to earn his first Super Rugby cap.