Derby win mantra will fuel Bulls against Sharks
Vodacom Bulls coach Jake White was as direct as he could be at the start of the season when asked what the difference would be between success and failure for his side in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship this season.
White made it clear - derby wins were the one thing his side missed last season and ended up being part of their failure to go beyond the quarterfinals of the URC and prompt him to start a big buying spree of players to increase the depth of his squad.
And now, with a Springbok-laden Hollywoodbets Sharks side heading to Loftus Versfeld this weekend, White will know that this is one game his side desperately needs - and wants to win - to continue their march in the championship.
The Bulls have an excellent record in the URC, being unbeaten against overseas opposition, but their local derbies - especially last season - were some cause for concern as they dropped vital points at home that they needed to give them a better log position - and thereby a better playoff spot than they eventually got.
“The reality is - last year we fell short at home - we lost to the Sharks, we lost to the Stormers twice and to the Lions. The one lesson that is obvious, is that you need to win your derby games,” White said at the start of the season, underlining the importance of this and every local derby for his team.
Since then the Bulls have had a reasonably good start to the URC, demolishing Scarlets in their opening game before heading abroad on a four week tour where they picked up wins over Cardiff and Zebre and got a losing bonus point against Ulster.
They then returned home to smash Connacht by 50 points in a highly entertaining game last weekend to sit in fourth spot on the URC log.
But if White’s mantra is anything to go by, they know they need to win these derby games if they are to give themselves a more favourable chance in the playoff rounds later in the season.
Last year a red card to stalwart Morne Steyn cost them a chance of winning the match as they went down to the Sharks in a frustrating game for Bulls fans.
White’s desire to get the derby win is set against John Plumtree’s acid test of where his side is after five losses and a big win that coincided with their Springboks returning last weekend.
Plumtree is obviously keen to see his side pick up some momentum and will be backing the Boks to take them a step further after their horror start to the season.
With White bringing in new signing and World Cup winner Willie le Roux and having Canan Moodie on the bench, the Bulls backline could feature one or two different players as well with Kurt-Lee Arendse likely to make a shift back into the starting side at some point, White has a number of options.
Add to that Marco van Staden’s return to the Bulls starting line-up last week and the form of their front row and they will have some good firepower to go head to head with the Sharks.
Either way, White knows the stakes are high for this game and this is definitely a match he doesn’t want to lose.
Which all adds to the spice in the build-up to the game.