Pretoria - As the Currie Cup reaches the halfway mark this weekend, the Blue Bulls will be fighting for their survival in the competition when they host the Free State Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar said while the Cheetahs may pose the greatest challenge for his charges so far this season, they would face it head-on.
“Some of the players had big games, but this will probably be the biggest game some of these players have played in their life,” Pienaar said.
“It is a huge challenge and it is one that the side is looking forward to and it is one we won’t shy away from.”
With two losses and a draw in their first four matches, the Bulls are under increased pressure for their young side to find their feet.
They are wallowing in last place on the log with six points, however, all is not lost considering how their 2012 season played-out.
After three consecutive defeats they found themselves at the bottom of the pile, but managed to turn their campaign around and advance to the semi-final.
“Nobody gave us a chance in the Currie Cup (this season) and we went to Cape Town and we showed what we can do (they drew their first game against WP),” Pienaar said.
“In the Currie Cup, every weekend will be a test for us, but their side (Cheetahs) gelled really well in Super Rugby.”
The Cheetahs have been somewhat inconsistent in the first four rounds, winning two of their encounters.
However, last weekend’s convincing 40-20 victory over Griquas may suggest they have shed their post-Super Rugby blues.
Pienaar said the team from central South Africa demonstrated during Super Rugby that they had evolved into a force to be reckoned with.
“They made a huge step-up with their defence and they are a bit more territory-orientated,” he said.
“Then they still have that flair that comes with old Cheetahs rugby, so we have to be at our very best.”
While the Cheetahs may only have one victory more than the Bulls so far, their four bonus points have made all the difference.
Both their losses could have swung either way, losing by a single point to Western Province and by three to the Sharks.
The Bulls made minor improvements after a 62-23 demolition against the Lions two weeks ago to a more respectable 34-18 defeat to the Sharks in Durban last week.
In both games the Pretoria-based side was still in the game until the 50th minute when things went sour.
Pienaar said his troops needed to adapt to the increased pressure and tempo they have been exposed to.
“It is a cross-road for us this weekend and we have to make sure we play 80 minutes of quality rugby,” Pienaar said.
“We’ve shown that we can do that, but it’s just been those soft moments that we have to eliminate.”
15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Akona Ndungane, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Jacques Engelbrecht, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe
Substitutes: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 David Bulbring, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Rudy Paige, 21 Ulrich Beyers, 22 Clayton Blommetjies
Free State Cheetahs:
15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo (captain), 5 Lodewyk De Jager, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Rossouw De Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Substitutes: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian Du Preez, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie Du Plessis, 22 Piet Lindeque