Bulls look to retain momentum
Johannesburg - With only six matches left for the Bulls in the round-robin phase of the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, the Pretoria side can ill-afford any slip-ups ahead of the playoffs.
The Bulls' campaign has been on an upward curve since their return from Australasia five weeks ago and they are on the cusp of securing a home semi-final.
Coach Frans Ludeke said this week it was crucial that his team performed consistently well as the competition entered a crucial stage.
"We feel the momentum swinging in terms of our campaign and we want to keep our standard and keep on playing well," Ludeke said.
The three-time Super Rugby champions will come up against the Highlanders, the Bulls' bogey team, at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
In the 15 matches the two sides have played, the Bulls have come out on top on only four occasions.
The New Zealand franchise have also won four and drawn one of eight matches at Loftus.
However, the Highlanders have had a nightmarish season, with only a victory over the Sharks to show for their efforts.
To add insult to injury, the tourists lost the battle of the basement dwellers when the Southern Kings convincingly dismantled them in Port Elizabeth last week.
While the odds are firmly stacked against the Highlanders, these statistics merely mask the real dangers they pose for the Bulls.
"We know what they are capable of. We've played against them many seasons now," Ludeke said.
"They are very competitive at the breakdown and we know what they can do from broken field."
Given the Highlanders' ability to cut through the opposition's defences from turnover ball, Ludeke said his charges could not afford to gift the visitors with possession from broken play.
"We would like to be disciplined in the way we control the possession and we have to be accurate at the set-pieces," he said.
"They've got a good scrum with a lot of experience there, so we know their ability and we are looking forward to a tough contest."
While many teams have thrived on a possession-based game plan, Ludeke said his side employed a tactical game by playing for field position.
This has clearly paid dividends for the Bulls this season, but could become a high risk tactic against counter attacking teams such as the Highlanders if the players are not accurate in the execution of the game plan.
"We use a tactical game to get into the right areas and this could give them a lot of broken play," Ludeke said.
"We've been accurate over the last four weeks where we've forced some good turnovers.
"When a team gets possession from turnovers, through poor kicks you give them space and that is when they are difficult to stop."
Captain Pierre Spies, playing in his 100th Super Rugby match for the Bulls, said the New Zealand side would want to atone for last week's loss against the Kings, which made them a dangerous prospect.
"We've seen it in the competition. Any team is capable of winning on the day and the Highlanders are an experienced team," Spies said.
"They've got quality players all around the park and they've got lots of All Blacks in that team.
"They'll definitely want to bounce back from the Kings game. We've seen what they are capable of and they are a very dangerous team if you let them."