You have to pass the Loftus test
The Blue Bulls may be in the midst of one of their worst Currie Cup seasons in decades, but a trip to Loftus Versfeld remains a huge challenge and one of the highlights of the season.
Western Province will not bank on a repeat of the 42-6 demolition they produced at Newlands just over a month ago when they face the bottom-of-the-table Bulls in Pretoria on Friday.
Despite having managed just three wins from eight starts and being faced with the prospect of a promotion-relegation match at the end of the season, Province are not ready to write off their arch rivals just yet.
WP Allister Coetzee said the strength-versus-strength format of the six-team competition - reduced from eight when minnows, the Pumas and Leopards, were axed - means there is now no longer any margin for error and less opportunity for recovery after a loss.
With just two round remaining the Bulls remain in the play-off race. However, the will require them to win their remaining games.
For the third-placed WP there is plenty to play for, but they are looking at the threat posed by the Bulls, rather than the bigger, play-off, picture.
"The next game is the Bulls, that is what we need to look at and focus on," Coetzee said, adding that his team needs to dramatically improve on last week's (9-22) loss to the Golden Lions.
"It was terrible," the Province mentor said, adding: "I don't think it is the pressure of the competition, it is more the pressure the players put on themselves to get things right. At times last week we were a bit over eager, or the pressure that we were put under we didn't respond too well to that.
"It [the pressure] will be more this weekend," he said, adding that they are expecting a very different team from the Bulls the demoralised Bulls outfit that left Newlands last month after a 36-point hiding.
"We did not play the perfect game, but close to where we want to be as a team - the intensity was fantastic, we were really accurate at Newlands.
"[However,] this is a different beast altogether ... this weekend.
"They have guys like Chiliboy [Ralepelle], Dean Greyling and Bjorn Basson back - they are all Springboks.
"For every player who want to make it in South African rugby, you have to pass the test at Loftus.
"It is going to be tough, but it is a challenge we are really looking forward to."
WP captain Deon Fourie also suggested the Bulls will be a far more formidable foe than the shambles that they encountered at Newlands.
"These north-south derbies are one of the highlights of the year ... especially at Loftus it is just that much more intense," Fourie said.
"Add to that the Bulls where they stand at the moment - they want to rectify their season and get back to their winning ways again."
Fourie added that WP need to become more consistent, having produced emphatic wins over teams like the Bulls and Griquas, but then produced a poor performance against the Golden Lions - which saw them fall behind the tournament leaders.
"That is the funny thing about rugby, one week you are on top of the world and the next week down in the dumps," Fourie said, adding: "That is important, to get consistency, especially in the last few weeks.
"It is important [for us] to now get back on track."
By Jan de Koning