Bulls stars ready for Sharks
Pretoria - Bakkies Botha is ready. Fourie du Preez is ready. And, says Pierre Spies, he is ready to come up with a big performance on Saturday when the Bulls and Sharks meet at Loftus Versfeld.
It's both teams' final group match in the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament and they have exactly the same number of log points.
Botha and Du Preez have recovered from knee injuries and should be in the squad that Bulls coach Frans Ludeke will announce on Wednesday. Spies, who has played in all 15 the Bulls' games, is also running around energetically.
The No 8 was written off by numerous critics earlier in the season and slammed for is form, but has been playing like the 40-Test veteran that he is for the past month. He simply has to be in the Springboks' World Cup plans.
Spies does not refer to that precise moment, but it was probably in the 48th minute of the Bulls' game against the Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld where things suddenly fell in place for him.
Coincidence or not, a number of things also started falling in place for several of his team-mates and since then the Bulls have not been beaten in Super Rugby.
That is when Spies scored his first (and to date only) try of the season after about 770 minutes of Super Rugby.
Everything was just easier and more fun after that, the country's leading No 8 admitted after Tuesday's Bulls training session ahead of the decisive match against the Sharks.
It's a case of winner takes all and loser probably getting nothing, but the 26-year-old loose forward still regards the past six games as a highlight. And that is why his team-mates could again expect an energetic performance.
"You definitely enjoy your rugby more when you win. So I have to admit that the past six weeks have been a lot more fun than that first part of the season when things just did not go our way," said Spies.
Even so, he cannot put his finger on what went wrong in the Bulls' initial onslaught, which has led to them having to win a seventh successive game to make the play-offs.
"Quite rightly there were high expectations, especially as we achieved milestones in 2009 and 2010. It's difficult to say why things didn't work out for us."
On a personal level there were also questions about Spies's form and he was not satisfied himself. He believes criticism was justified.
"Criticism is part of the game and based on what happened the previous two seasons people could probably not be blamed for not liking what they saw.
"But I'm satisfied with the way things are going now and believe we could produce a good performance on Saturday. The Sharks are worthy opponents and don't give anything away, so we will definitely have to stamp down our authority."
Bulls team for Sharks:
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Fourie du Preez, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Akona Ndungane.