Johannesburg - Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais believes his side have the game and confidence to beat the high flying Free State Cheetahs this weekend, but they will need to be at their best to do it.
According to the SuperSport website, the Cheetahs demolished the Golden Lions 55-17 in their game, while the Bulls snuck past Western Province 36-30 in a highly-contested game where they scored the winner two minutes from the end.
But despite that, and losing the league game in Bloemfontein earlier in the season, Marais believes his side will be up for the challenge, and believes all the pressure will be on Franco Smith’s side when the two meet in the final on Saturday.
“The Cheetahs are an excellent side, they didn’t lose one game,” Marais said.
“The Lions also didn’t lose one game last year on their way to win the Currie Cup. All the momentum is with them at the moment.
“Our side is playing good rugby and we will have one or two plans up our sleeves. They are a young team that is playing with a lot of confidence, but we are also a young side that is playing with a lot of confidence. So it will be an interesting match.
“We know how good they are so we won’t go down there and underestimate them. As John Dobson said this week, the pressure was on us because it was a home game.
“We believe we are a good enough side to beat them but only 80 minutes down the line will tell you that.”
Marais said that despite the close finish by his side, he believed they played their best game of the year, even though their execution rate was still something to be desired.
“It was always going to be close, especially when WP got guys like Bongi and Juan de Jongh back. They played off too many of our mistakes in the game but I still believe this is the best game of our season,” he added.
“We ran from our own 22, we played all over, kicked brilliantly. For me, a year ago we would have lost these matches and now we’re fighting to the end and I’m impressed. Even the guys who came on – Ivan (van Zyl) – 20 years old and he scores the winning try. It shows the Bulls are on the right track.
“We made two critical mistakes last year that they scored from. But we then stopped playing and went back to the old kicking game, but this time we continued and kept on attack. That is why I’m saying it got better and better. If the guys continue to do that under pressure, they get used to it and they stick to the way we play. But a year later it is much better.
“It was important for us to show we can fight for 80 minutes. We spoke a lot in Super Rugby about playing and then sinking, playing and then stopping. We had that at the start of Currie Cup as well. For me it was a great game and the fans got their money’s worth. Consistency is a lot better.”
Possibly the Bulls best asset at the moment is their consistency and the workrate of their forwards. But Marais knows that while they created more than enough chances to win the game by a larger margin, it was their own mistakes at times that counted against them.
However, this isn’t something he is worried about at the moment.
“There are a lot of errors we made and our conversion rate is still not up there, but if you look at our handling errors in previous games at the beginning of the Currie Cup. This time if we moved some of those attacks on by one or two passes we would have walked over. That is where we make mistakes. But the turnover rate on handling errors is much less than where it was previously. At the beginning of the season it was 22 a game, but it is getting a lot less now,” he said.
Marais had firm praise for opensider Roelof Smit, who was a constant thorn in the Province side, and said he made a massive difference in the game.
“I try and pick the right players for the right game. I knew they would pick Elstadt, Kobus van Dyk and Nizaam Carr. They didn’t pick a breakdown specialist. Rudolf Smit is the only breakdown specialist in South Africa who plays to the ball, and he made two or three vital turnovers for us. We wanted to take him off earlier because he had a hamstring strain, but he was too vital for us. The breakdown is important and we wanted to play quickly. A guy like Roelof was very important for us.”
The Bulls aren’t likely to make too many chances to their side before heading down to Bloemfontein on Friday.
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