Bulls read the riot act
Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar has read the riot act to his team, making seven changes to the side that lost to GWK Griquas in Kimberley last week ahead of this weekend’s do-or-die clash against the Toyota Cheetahs.
Pienaar knows too well that after three consecutive losses, his team are truly in crisis mode. One more loss and they will be cemented firmly to the bottom and with just three games left, are likely to face the EP Kings in a promotion-relegation battle at the end of the season.
That, in Pienaar’s own words, is simply not acceptable. This weekend however, the Cheetahs are in the same boat and a victory over them could leapfrog the Bulls out of the bottom spot and even put them in contention for a semifinal spot in the Absa Currie Cup.
While the team has welcomed back halfback Jano Vermaak and flank Jacques Potgieter from the Springboks, most of the other changes are purely in reaction to the defeat in Kimberley, where the side’s defence let them down once again.
Arno Botha is back from a hamstring injury and interestingly takes the No 8 spot, with captain Dewald Potgieter moving to openside flank and his namesake Jacques reverting to his normal blindside spot.
This means that CJ Stander, one of the better players this season, falls back onto the bench and Warwick Tecklenburg drops out of the 22 altogether.
Bok JJ Engelbrecht replaces Ulrich Beyers at outside centre, making place for speedster and Sevens Bok Sampie Mastriet on the wing, while Grant Hattingh is also dropped and former SA under-20 lock Franco Mostert comes into the starting line-up in his place.
Dawie Steyn’s injury gives Morne Mellett a chance to show his mettle after a season where he has been hit by injuries.
Whether the changes are all necessary or a form of shock treatment waits to be seen, but Pienaar is adamant that the team cannot afford another loss, and has made sure the team know this.
“If you lie last on the log, it can’t go well. We’ve lost three in a row, and if you go look at our statistics, we’re doing a lot of things right, but we let through soft tries. But it isn’t as if our defence is worked out, it is just mistakes we are making,” Pienaar said.
“We let through a lot of soft tries against Griquas, and those moments have to stop. You don’t know why they happen. I really feel we do a lot of good things during a game and if things start going our way and we get a bit of self-confidence going, we can do well. It is just a matter of time before it will happen.
“We know we have to be switched on this weekend, we know we have to win, there is no other scenario. It is the same message that we’ve put out for the last two weeks.
"To be honest, there is nothing to say, we’re waiting for it to happen. Things have to turn, and we’re hoping it is this weekend. The Cheetahs are in the same boat. They also have to win, and it shows how close the competition is.”
With the competition being so close, a victory could reignite their semifinal hopes. The stakes have never been higher for the team this season.
“For instance, whoever wins this weekend, then you’re one point behind Griquas and WP, and they face each other at Newlands, so one of them will lose. That’s how close it is at the moment. But there aren’t games left, so if we don’t win, it’s finished,” Pienaar explained.
“I said to the guys on Monday, the Currie Cup is a battle and there is no bye. The last three weeks were mentally and emotionally tough for all of us. Television doesn’t show it but the team and management are throwing everything in. The commitment is definitely there but currently it is not going our way.
"We’re making too many errors and our opponents are capitalising on that. At the moment we’re playing against ourselves. I told the guys we just need one win. One win and the self-belief comes back, one win and you’re back on the horse.
“But there are only four games left, so if we battle this weekend, then things are looking pretty grim. You know then you’re gonna struggle not to play in the relegation playoffs then, so the stakes are high. The guys know that.
"The biggest thing for us, is for the players to believe and to play their own game. If you’re in a game where you’re worried about making a lot of mistakes, then you’re going to struggle with that fear.
“We’ve played great rugby at stages, and we haven’t played great rugby at other stages. It is about finding those combinations and getting the team together as a unit. That’s what we are searching for. We know it is going to be a tough one against Free State. They have the same problems. “
But finding a way out of those problems is what the Bulls need, because if they can’t, the rest of the season will be about survival, and they certainly don’t want that.
VODACOM BLUE BULLS: Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Francois Venter, Sampie Mastriet, Louis Fouchè, Jano Vermaak, Arno Botha, Jacques Potgieter, Dewald Potgieter (capt) Franco Mostert, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Werner Kruger, Willie Wepener, Mornè Mellett.
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Frik Kirsten, Cornell Hess, CJ Stander, Ruan Snyman, Lionel Cronjè, Ulrich Beyers.