Bulls primed for playoffs

Sport24 columnist Jaco van der Westhuyzen (File)
Sport24 columnist Jaco van der Westhuyzen (File)
Having missed out on the semi-finals last season, there is a real excitement in the Pretoria air this week ahead of the Bulls’ showdown with the Brumbies.

The Loftus faithful just love their rugby and for them the bigger the occasion, the better. A near-capacity crowd is expected at Fortress Loftus, a ground at which the Bulls have never been beaten in Super Rugby knock-out history.

However, having played under Jake White and knowing him as well as I do, the former Springbok coach will be reminding his side of the beating the Bulls suffered against the Stormers in Round 20.

White is a brilliant man-motivator – the message he will emphasise to his charges is: Pressure the Bulls’ set-phases, match them physically and disrupt their momentum and one then has a realistic chance of causing a major upset.

However, the Bulls have now had nearly a fortnight to digest that defeat and I believe that it could well prove a blessing in disguise. Frans Ludeke will remind the current side that in 2010, while the Bulls travelled to Cape Town prior to the playoffs and lost 38-10, the side bounced back to beat the Stormers in the Super Rugby final. For the Bulls, it’s always been about winning the big games.

Much like White, Ludeke is a pragmatic coach who is very structured in approach and pays careful attention to detail. Along with the experienced Victor Matfield, this week both men will share with the less-experienced Bulls players the lessons on how to stay cool under increased pressure.

Playoffs are all about dealing with pressure. The goal is to exert sufficient pressure on the opposition in order for them to make mistakes.

I believe we are in for a tightly-fought battle owing to the fact that both sides are structured and employ a similar playing style. Both aim to dominate the set-pieces, win the battle of the breakdown and then play for territory.

However, should the Bulls gain forward supremacy, expect the experienced Morne Steyn to run the show. Not only is he a deadeye dick in front of goal, he is adept at gaining territorial ascendancy for his side with the boot.

However, should his forwards offer front-foot ball on Saturday, he won’t be afraid to release his dangerous backline.

Having played in and won two Super Rugby titles, talking from personal experience playoffs are special occasions. For any player, big games are a dream to be a part of and are all about seizing the opportunities presented.

White is a wily old fox and as expected this week, has made comments in the media in an effort to stir emotion. But the Bulls won’t allow emotion and external pressure to permeate their camp. All the preparation which has gone on during the season subconsciously kicks in during knock-out games.

Loftus Versfeld is always a very daunting and hostile environment and when the crowd gets behind a winning Bulls side, the opposition typically feel its force. I’m backing the Bulls to beat the Brumbies.

The Chiefs-Crusaders clash will be another humdinger. While the Crusaders are playing away from home, I feel that they are now on a roll with Dan Carter on song and Richie McCaw back in the side.

For me, the Chiefs have lacked an edge this season sans Sonny Bill Williams in their backline. My sense is that they may be undercooked for Saturday.

A Bulls-Crusaders final is on the cards.

Jaco van der Westhuyzen was a member of the Bulls’ Super Rugby-winning sides in 2007 and 2010. He is currently an Afrikaans commentator for SuperSport.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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