Cape Town - The Bulls are desperate for a victory against the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.
They have won just one of their five Super Rugby fixtures so far this year, and that win came in the reverse fixture against the Japanese franchise at Loftus on March 17.
It remains the Bulls' only home game of the season to date in 2017, but after Saturday's fixture they will return to South Africa for four successive matches at Loftus.
It is the beginning of a critical period for coach Nollis Marais and his charges, and any slim chance they have of making the playoffs this year will surely be extinguished if they come unstuck against the Sunwolves.
"It’s a very important game for us but I think if you looked at how the guys came out and played against the Chiefs last weekend, I think that the team realises where they are and what they need to do and fix," Marais said.
The Bulls ran the Chiefs close for most of last weekend's clash in Hamilton before conceding two late tries on their way to a 28-12 loss.
"We played very well and, unfortunately, after 67 minutes we let two tries slip and we were out of that match. We were very competitive and I thought at one stage we could pull off a major upset. The guys believe in themselves and they’re looking forward to the match. They know it’s important for us."
The Bulls go into the match without flyhalf Handre Pollard and centre/fullback Jesse Kriel, who are both rested as part of the Springbok management plan that does not allow contracted Boks to play more than five Super Rugby matches in a row.
"That’s the problem, but there is an agreement and we honour and respect the SARU contract," Marais said.
"Handre wants to play. I think he was very good against the Chiefs, coming back into form. But it also gives a chance to Tian (Schoeman), who has been waiting to play. Without the Boks we would battle at home."
By resting Pollard and Kriel on Saturday, Marais will have them available for the entire home stretch at Loftus.
The Bulls are also without Bok lock Lood de Jager, who is out with a calf strain. He is one of a number of injured players, a list which also included Piet van Zyl, Conrad van Vuuren, Jon-Roy Jenkinson, Arno Botha, Ruan Steenkamp and Dries Swanepoel.
"The injuries are forcing us into playing younger players, but those players were part of our pre-season and they worked really hard so it’s an opportunity to give them a chance," Marais said.
"We trained them in pre-season exactly for this reason so now it’s time for them to make the step up."
Even with a number of players missing, the Bulls will still be expected to triumph.
The plan, once again, will be to win the battle up front and then look to use the backs to attack.
"We’ve got big forwards and we should dominate up front and then the space will open up," said Marais.
"We always said from the beginning we will be an all-round team and to do that you need to dominate your set-pieces and the rest will come. For the players it’s very clear what we want and what we need."
Kick-off on Saturday is at 07:15 SA time.
15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto
Substitutes: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Nic de Jager, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Martin Dreyer, 19 Jaco Visagie/Hendré Stassen, 20 Jacques Potgieter, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Franco Naude