Bulls to run Sharks gauntlet
Pine Pienaar (Gallo Images)
Pretoria - With two matches left in the regular Currie Cup season, the Blue Bulls are backing themselves to reach the playoffs and only Friday's opponents, the Sharks, are standing in their way.
Despite a topsy-turvy season, the Bulls kept their semi-final chances alive when they beat Griquas 52-10 in Kimberley last weekend.
"We know we have to go out and put up a massive performance against the log-leaders," Bulls coach Pine Pienaar said in Pretoria.
"We have to make sure we chase the big moments where we put the Sharks under pressure and try and look after the ball better and make the right decisions."
Pienaar stayed with continuity in his team selection, making only three changes to the stating XV for Friday's Loftus clash.
The Light Blues were buoyed by the return of winger Bjorn Basson, who replaced Sampie Mastriet, while Clayton Blommetjies missed out on selection.
The Bulls coach made two changes to his front row giving Bongi Mbonambi a starting berth at the expense of Bandise Maku, who moves to the bench.
Prop Frik Kirsten was declared fit following a knee injury and replaced Werner Kruger at tighthead.
The Bulls were lying fifth on the log with 16 points - a single point separating them from the Cheetahs in fourth place.
The team’s destiny was out of their hands as the results in other matches during the weekend could still determine whether they qualified for the playoffs.
Nevertheless, the team would treat Friday’s match as a final, Pienaar said, to ensure they kept their campaign alive.
"Our biggest focus is on this weekend.
"There are so many variables that could happen, but I’ve selected the best 22 against the Sharks," he said.
"This is a final at Loftus - it is a do-or-die situation for us and we have to ensure we are good enough to possibly stay in the competition."
He said the team took some confidence from their match against Griquas, particularly in the second half but, he warned, the Sharks would pose a different challenge from the Peacock Blues.
"To stay in the running, we’ve got to go out against the Sharks and win.
"If the bonus point opportunity presents itself, hopefully we can take that."
15 Jurgen Visser,
14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn
Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7
Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Paul
Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
16 Bandise Maku, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques
Engelbrecht, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Ulrich Beyers, 22 Sampie Mastriet