Pretoria - Springbok midfielder Jesse Kriel hit the nail on the head when he smiled and said: “Nobody is giving us a chance.”
And given the history of the Super Rugby playoffs, the travel factor and the pressure that comes with these games, its hard to argue any differently.
But the Bok midfielder was still smiling, knowing that this fact could also be the Bulls biggest ally as they arrived in New Zealand with little time to train and nobody giving them a chance.
The scenario has been written for a final in Christchurch weeks ago, and most betting fans will expect South Africa’s time in the tournament to end this weekend, but the Bulls and their Boks may see a glimmer of hope in the Wellington icy wind.
“I don’t think anyone kinda thinks the Bulls will go over there and win but we obviously think we will. It’s such a great challenge, it is always nice being labelled the underdog,” Kriel said.
“We have been labelled the underdog this season a few times now and we have always come out trumps. I think that is something positive for us.
“It will be completely mental this week. I think the guys physically will be fresh when we get there but mentally we are going to have to prepare well and be up for it this weekend.”
Kriel was in the strange position of being waterboy this past weekend for the team, but is just itching to get onto the field again.
“Obviously there is a first time for everything but the result was special and made it really rewarding. It was good to be back out there and being with the team – this whole week, being back with the guys was pretty special and the result was very nice.”
And he isn’t daunted by the prospect playing a quarter-final in New Zealand.
“It takes a toll but we have our medical staff who have worked out a good plan for us. Us flying out a bit later has worked out nicely, obviously there are a bit of bumps and bruises after the game and the guys have had an extra day of recovery. So the guys can get on the plane fresh and hit the ground running when we get there.
“We all know who their good players are - up front a guy like Savea, their halfback pairing is very experienced and then you have a guy like Laumape in the centres that gives them a lot of go-forward. If you look at Lam on the wing, he gives them good gainline and is good on counter attack as well.
“They have some key players but I think as a team they compete. If you look at Saturday’s performance we have also got some dangerous guys who are peaking at the right time and that’s exciting. It’s going to be an exciting game, it’s quarter-final rugby and I think we have been playing a knockout brand of rugby the whole season - we have been taking penalties when they come so we don’t need to change much, we just need to focus on ourselves this week.”
Kriel believes his first playoff game while at Loftus will be special, whatever happens on the field but knows his team will have to lift their game to beat the home ground advantage.
“It is an unbelievable feeling, we’ve always got so close and this time of the year it was always the case of saying goodbye and having a few weeks off before getting into the Bok camp if you are in the mix. But it’s nice, getting to quarter-final rugby and giving yourself a chance. We’ve got a chance to go out there and make some history,” he adds.
“When teams play here you have the crowd behind you and the 50-50 calls tend to go your way. Its small things, but we have to go over there and play well enough that none of that affects us. There will be a big focus on putting a good plan on the table this week for guys to be at their best on the weekend. I think it is an exciting challenge that everyone is looking forward to.”
And he knows the Bulls have a chance. Even though it won’t be a massive one, that’s all they need.
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Wes Goosen,
13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett,
9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia
Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles
(captain), 1 Toby Smith
Substitutes: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Fraser Armstrong, 18 Ben May/Alex Fidow, 19 Kane Le'aupepe, 20 Du'Plessis Kirifi, 21 Richard Judd/Finlay Christie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Salesi Rayasi
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handre Pollard (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw