Relief, not celebration at Loftus
Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - There was more a sense of relief than a sense of celebration in the air at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night as the Vodacom Bulls stopped a four match losing streak to give themselves some hope of reaching the playoffs.
According to the supersport.com website, while their season has been one of disappointment, certain things remain true.
No matter who they play, the Bulls will always be a factor at Loftus Versfeld and none more so than clawing their way back into the game from 18-9 down to win 26-21 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Toyota Cheetahs on Saturday night.
And considering they were desperate to win, it isn’t surprising that the smiles were a little overzealous at times, but only for a second.
The Bulls have been in this competition long enough to know their fate can be sealed quickly if they don’t follow up this win with a second good victory over the DHL Stormers at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
With two of their last five games against the Stormers, it is their traditional enemies that will hold sway over their slim playoff hopes once again and considering there is a resurgence in the Stormers game after their nail-biting victory against the Highlanders this past weekend, it makes it all the more difficult.
Not saying the games between the two rivals aren’t traditionally difficult, but they are harder to predict when both are struggling to perfect a game plan that has brought them success in the competition in recent times.
The Bulls will welcome Piet van Zyl back into their ranks this week, but are likely to miss Flip van der Merwe for another week as his suspension for a punch continues.
But while they were happy to take the victory over the Cheetahs, the jury still is out on their contribution to the breakdown, with the fact they managed to dominate up front against the Cheetahs perhaps masking their continued frailties there.
It is no secret that the Bulls will have to win every game in the next five weeks if they want to get into the playoff rounds, but with Loftus obviously giving them a boost, it will be interesting to see if they can rectify their wrongs with a series of bold decisions or will continue to plod along with the same game plan in the hope that the problems iron themselves out.
The likelihood is the latter, as Bulls coach Frans Ludeke is not known as one of the pioneering figures in Super Rugby, and more often than not in Pretoria there is an atmosphere of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The problem is, of course, that everyone else sees the same problem except for the Bulls management this season.
Victor Matfield will once again lead the side into battle this weekend, and was one of the more relieved players on the side of the pitch this weekend.
“I think it takes a lot of pressure off the shoulders of everyone,” Matfield said.
“You have that feeling in your stomach that you just want to get back to winning ways. We will take this and hopefully get some momentum and confidence and go into next week. We know it will be another huge game on Saturday. We will have to put in all the hard work again this week and we will have to be even better than tonight if we want to.”
Matfield said he was at a loss to why the Bulls managed to find their way on their home ground but couldn’t execute on tour in all four games.
“If I knew the difference between playing overseas and here, we would win every year. Things just work easier here and overseas you have to work hard, the opportunities are few, and in this game we had more opportunities and we didn’t score. There is still frustration with that and we still want to convert those and score more.”
The Bulls will have to up their attack in the coming weeks if they want to score bonus point tries and a positive attitude, combined with the spectre of their fortress will obviously help.
But the question still remains whether they have enough firepower, should they sneak into the playoffs, to win a big game away from home.
Relying on Loftus to help you is one thing, as it papers over the cracks for another week. But it is a dangerous strategy that can backfire at any time, and has no guarantee of long-term success.
The Bulls will want to prove everyone wrong, as they’ve continued to try to do for weeks now.
Only time will tell if they can do so.