Johannesburg - The Blue Bulls deviated from their aim to play entertaining rugby which resulted in two consecutive defeats in the Currie Cup over the past two weeks.
Although they are still in second place on the log, Bulls coach Nollis Marais feels the pressure of expectancy played a role in their two back-to-back losses.
The Bulls will face another test of character when they travel to Durban to face a Sharks side battling to get their campaign off the ground.
Marais was honest in his assessment of their defeat to Western Province and was confident his charges would return to the form which saw them win five matches on the trot.
“I think the pressure was too much on them and we moved away from the way we want to play, up until the Lions game we played more free-flowing rugby,” Marais said in Pretoria on Wednesday.
“We didn’t do that against Western Province, we kicked more, we didn’t use the ball in space and we said we would go back to what we did in the first five matches.
“Playing with the ball, play a new brand of rugby no matter if we win or lose, that is the new way to go forward and that is the way the players want to play.”
Although expectations remain high on the Bulls to claim a semi-final berth, they will not place any emphasis on winning the remaining three matches at all costs.
“I want to take the pressure away from the players, they mustn’t focus on winning or losing or the permutations,” he said.
“These guys are still young, and it is a new brand of rugby we want to play, the focus will be to stick to the processes, playing free-flowing rugby, use the opportunities in front of us and play with excitement.”
Marais made only three changes to his run-on side with Springbok centre Jan Serfontein receiving a start at No 13 in place of Dries Swanepoel, who drops to the bench, while Tian Schoeman replaces Louis Fouche at flyhalf.
The only change to the pack sees Arno Botha returning to the starting XV at No 8, with Lappies Labuschagne shifting to flank in the place of the injured Roelof Smit.
Smit has been ruled out for four weeks after he underwent an operation on Tuesday to repair torn wrist ligaments.
Botha’s place on the bench will be covered by Ruan Steenkamp, who could make his Blue Bulls and Currie Cup debut.
15. Odwa Ndungane, 14. Wandile Mjekevu, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. S’bura Sithole, 10. Joe Pietersen, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Philip van der Walt (captain), 7. Christiaan de Bruin, 6. Francois Kleinhans, 5. Dave McDuling, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2. Franco Marais, 1. Thomas du Toit
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Mzamo Majola, 18. Marco Wentzel, 19. Jean Deysel, 20. Michael Claassens, 21. Heimar Williams, 22. Garth April
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (captain), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Substitutes: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Ruan Steenkamp, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Dries Swanepoel