Pretoria - Starting their campaign with a flourish has ignited expectations which the Blue Bulls will have to live up to, coach Nollis Marais said ahead of their Currie Cup clash against Griquas at Loftus Versfeld on Friday.
The Bulls opened their campaign with a stunning 57-19 victory over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein over the weekend, signalling their intent to play an expansive style.
“Expectations is going to be high now, nobody expected us to come out playing that kind of rugby against the Cheetahs,” Marais said at the team announcement in Pretoria on Wednesday.
“We are fine with that, we know what to do, just stay level headed and hopefully play a good match on Friday.
“I was unsure before the match how they would play because when we played in Japan there were things I wasn’t happy with and luckily on Saturday we absorbed the pressure in the beginning and the guys played pretty very well.”
With the team receiving a clean bill of health there was no reason for Marais to tinker with his winning formula.
In the only change to the matchday-22, a fit-again Dayan van der Westhuizen will replace Nqoba Mxoli as backup prop on the bench.
“We are looking for consistency and I think it is going to be good for us against Griquas, it is only the second time that we all play together,” Marais said.
The match also served as an opportunity for Francois Hougaard to showcase his abilities at his preferred position of scrumhalf.
Hougaard spent the entire Super Rugby season on the wing where he saw his Springbok ambitions take a serious knock.
Instead of taking up the option to go to Japan during the Currie Cup competition, he decided to stay and sway the Springbok selectors.
Marais said the gritty player played a major role in Saturday’s victory and he expected much of the same from Hougaard throughout the campaign.
Hougaard was not only a constant attacking threat, scoring a brace of tries, but also had a hand in Jamba Ulengo's try and his service was sharp.
“Francois is a very good rugby player and if you back him he will play his heart out for you and he builds such a comfortable space for the juniors around him and he settles them,” Marais said.
“He just has that X-factor and he was instrumental in that win and he will be huge in this Currie Cup.”
Bulls backline coach David Manuel said it was quite the challenge to channel all the energy and excitement associated with a young crop of players.
“Nollis and I decided to give them freedom with responsibility, players often want freedom without the consequences and the responsibilities that come with it,” he said.
“I think we are finding the balance between the two and the thing that makes these young players special is they create something out of nothing.
“You don’t want to take away from them, you want them to play and make the decisions.”
15 Warrick Gelant,14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (captain),6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Roelof Smit, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Dries Swanepoel