Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Contrary to what their supporters may think, the Vodacom Bulls will be wishing the Cell C Sharks well as they continue their tour of Australasia this week while the Bulls sit at home and enjoy their bye.
According to the supersport.com website, the Bulls are eight points behind the Sharks at the moment but the Sharks have a game in hand.
With this year’s Super Rugby competition potentially one of the closest races for the playoffs, the best scenario for the Bulls will be to catch the Sharks and win the South African conference, thereby getting a home playoff spot rather than travelling.
And with most of their games still at Loftus Versfeld, where they haven’t been beaten this year, the Bulls are quietly confident they can finish off the season on a high.
Add to that the Sharks downturn in play of later and the difficulty of playing away from home, facing arguably the form side of the competition, the Crusaders this weekend and many Bulls fans will be wanting a loss for the fellow South Africans rather than hoping they can win.
But not the Bulls, as coach Frans Ludeke acknowledged the bye had come at a good time for his team, but said there was no way they wished anything but good tidings for Jake White’s side.
“We want to run our own race and we don’t want the Sharks to lose, they’re a South African team and we want to wish them well,” Ludeke said.
“We have always said if we run our own race we will be okay. This week is a nice off week for the players. We have had eight weeks on the trot, and have come back from the tour well.”
Ludeke’s side may not have won a game on their four weeks overseas, but they did pick up four bonus points, the equivalent of an away win and that is something that has boosted their chances of making the playoff rounds.
“We now realise that the four bonus points we picked up on tour are worth their weight in gold and after the win over the Stormers, it puts that in perspective,” Ludeke added.
“We are still in contention and that is what is important to us. We also want other teams to do well, we don’t believe in wishing bad luck on other teams.”
Ludeke said his team would enjoy the break, as some players needed a rest. Others, like veteran captain Victor Matfield, will welcome the week off after the management plan for him went right out of the window thanks to injuries and suspensions.
“It is a great time to have this break, we’re carrying a few niggles. Some players are carrying a lot. Even Victor can get a rest this week,” Ludeke said.
“The players will take it easy, obviously some of them will follow programmes set by the fitness staff. But it is the mental break you need, it is a long competition and it is almost what you need.
“When we return it is a short week against the Brumbies but what we did in previous seasons has worked well for us. There is a lot of thought put into the decision as well.”
The game against the Brumbies will be a crucial one for the Bulls, especially after they were bundled out of the competition by the same team last year at Loftus Versfeld to end their season on a low note.