Pretoria - The enormity of the task awaiting the Blue Bulls at Newlands this weekend against Western Province hasn’t escaped Springbok halfback Ivan van Zyl, especially after the mauling they took in the 40-minute game at Loftus Versfeld last week.
But with the Currie Cup semi-final looming and the Bulls heading to Cape Town as heavy underdogs, the first step in any comeback is admitting the problem.
And that Van Zyl does well.
There was little right with his team’s performance at Loftus last weekend and he admits that, but now that they know the mountain they have to climb this weekend, it all starts with a single step.
“They executed better than us. In a game like that where it is wet and the conditions are so difficult it all comes down to the team that executes the best and who make the least mistakes,” Van Zyl told SuperSport.com.
“They capitalised on our mistakes and we couldn’t get out of our half. Josh (Stander) kicked well and he pinned us back. We didn’t release the pressure and kept pressure on ourselves by knocking on a lot and not executing kicking and not being in the right areas of the field. They played the conditions well and we didn’t execute what we needed to, but we’ll be ready.”
And in a game where margins can count and pressure is a major part of a playoff game, belief is a massive thing for the Bulls this week. Van Zyl is hoping it may make the difference for his side.
“We definitely believe so. We are in the fortunate position where we actually didn’t do anything this past Saturday. We know exactly what we need to do and how to beat them. We are going in there as underdogs but we as a team believe beat them and we know exactly how. It’s a semi-final anything can happen but it is going to come down to can we execute the plan and if we can do that I believe that we can win this game.”
“They’ve been very good in this Currie Cup. Stats don’t lie, they have won six out of six. They are a very good team but they are not unbeatable. They’ve been playing very good rugby; their forwards have been good giving them a lot of front foot ball. But we know exactly what it is and what is going to be required of us as a team to get the win. Everyone is going to be at their utter best in this team to go do it but we definitely have the belief to go down to Newlands and cause an upset.”
While it seems there is a spot open at the Boks for either him of Embrose Papier to have some decent test game time with the Boks in the absence of Faf de Klerk, Van Zyl is hoping that he gets more game time to stake a claim. But in the meantime all he can do is keep on ploughing away and doing his best.
“You definitely want to play. Fortunately and unfortunately Faf has been playing some good rugby and there is no denying it. He’s had a huge and major role for the Boks especially in the Rugby Championship, he’s been good. Me and Embrose need to keep on grinding and working hard and at this stage we are waiting for the opportunity.
“You need to keep yourself mentally and physically ready for when that chance comes to capitalise and make the best use of it. We are still very excited and we have this hunger to go out and play. So wherever we get the opportunity whether it is playing at the Bulls or hopefully on the end-of-year tour, we just need to be ready. We love playing the game and we must keep on working hard. We have different things to offer to different teams but it’s still very exciting and thankful for the opportunities we are getting.”
And the pressure of a playoff week can only be good for both the Bok halfbacks, and they know that the game time can only do them good. And if they can learn, work hard and find something deeper to help their side, that is all that Van Zyl is looking for at the moment.
“It is great for us that it is a semi-final week and there is not as much pressure as a test but there will be a little bit of pressure. We need to know how to handle it because that is what test match rugby is about especially as nines being able to relieve the pressure and making good decisions.
“So for me and Embrose we still have a lot to learn but we are communicating and working well together and boosting each other. Obviously, both of us want to be there and play but at the end you can only focus on your job and what makes you good.
“If I keep on working hard and he keeps on working hard at the end it will work out. It is great to get some game time, you don’t want to be thrown into the deep end without playing any rugby. I’m very fortunate it’s going to be my fifth Currie Cup game so I at least got some game time. If I get an opportunity to play for the Springboks again, I know I’m not having a lack of game time.
“There’s nothing better than playing Western Province down to Newlands and coming back with a win. As a Bulls guy through and through, there is nothing better than that and that is where my heart and focus is right now.”
Van Zyl introduced himself to a large portion of the country in 2016 when he came on as a replacement at Loftus Versfeld to score a 78th minute try that sent the Bulls into the Currie Cup final against Province. That was the moment many realised he has more than just potential, but big match temperament as well.
“I actually saw a video of it this past weekend again. That was a special moment for me. That was the only game I played the whole season for the senior team, I actually played under-21 that whole year. Piet van Zyl got injured and I needed to fill in there and I got seven minutes and it was the best seven minutes of my life.
“Hopefully I can draw some confidence out of that and I think it is going to be another close game. We need to be ready to fight for 80 minutes like we did then winning it at the end. We will need to be ready for 80 minutes even if it is longer we are going to have to be ready and hopefully get the same result.”
The Bulls will name their side for the clash on Thursday.