Bulls hope to rain on Sharks' parade
The Blue Bulls are determined to overcome the odds and rain on the Sharks parade on Saturday.
Durban may be ready to unleash another 'monsoon' on the Blue Bulls on Saturday, but the men from Pretoria are determined to rain on the Sharks' parade.
The Sharks have played their last few home games in some atrocious conditions, including a 13-12 squeaker against the Bulls last month.
And the weather forecast for this weekend's semifinal between the Sharks and Bulls in Durban is not much better.
Not only will there be showers throughout the week, but there is more rain - accompanied by thunderstorms - predicted for Saturday.
Bulls coach Pine Pienaar admitted that the conditions will make it a bit more of a lottery, but added that accuracy in terms of execution is the key under the circumstances.
"They have played in those conditions a number of times [in recent weeks], which will make it tricky for us," Pienaar told this website.
"We played in pouring rain against them [just over two weeks ago].
"Their biggest asset will be the Springboks they didn't use against Griquas [last Friday], who will return [for the semifinal]," the Bulls mentor said.
"They have plenty of strong ball carriers and in those conditions, if you get over the advantage line, then their backs start to get space.
"It will be a titanic battle, especially on defence, as we have to stop them from getting that momentum."
Pienaar admitted his team's leaky defence has improved in recent weeks.
"Since the game against the Free State Cheetahs [about a month ago] we made some changes and the players are starting to grasp the system," Pienaar said of a period in which they yielded more than one try in a match only once - two against the free-running Golden Lions last week.
"The reason why our defence was so poor in the first half of the season was because our one-on-one defence simply wasn't up to standard," he said, adding: In those games there were simply too many line-breaks against us that put us under pressure.
"Against the Sharks we will definitely have to step up and stop their big runners.
"Players like Beast [Tendai Mtawarira], Keegan [Daniel], Jean [Deysel] and Craig Burden - you simply have to stop them, otherwise players like JP Pietersen will have space and Patrick Lambie will have front foot ball.
"On the day we will have to produce our best defensive effort, or we will be on the losing side."
The Bulls had the ideal trial run for the play-offs when they beat the defending champion Golden Lions 50-29 in a must-win league fixture in Johannesburg last week.
The two key aspects from that five-tries-to-two victory were the Bulls' ability to absorb pressure and also turn their own opportunities into points.
"There were players that were given a chance by Ackers [Lions coach Johan Ackermann] and they did really well," he said of a Lions team that were sans several player whom the Johannesburg outfit rested.
"They piled on the pressure," Pienaar said, adding: "The positive from the game is that we could get through it.
"I was concerned at one stage, because in that first half we really struggled.
"However, the rhythm we created out of the game and the fact that we reached the play-offs are the big positives to take out of this game."
He also spoke of the composure the team showed to pull away after the break and book their place in the semifinals.
"The right things were said [in the dressing room] at half-time and the senior players led well on the field gave good direction.
"You look at players like Morné [Steyn], Zane [Kirchner} and also Jano [Vermaak], who made good decisions on the field.
"I know we have been criticised a lot for kicking too much. However, the times that we kicked we got the ball back and placed them under pressure.
"It is good to have had those [pressure] situations ahead of a [semifinal] match against the Sharks."
By Jan de Koning