You can't just dismiss the conference trophy
The Bulls may have come out of a horror fortnight, but captain Dewald Potgieter still regard his team as a "champion breed".
Speaking after their 13-30 demolition at the hands of the Stormers at the weekend, Potgieter said even though the result wasn't what they wanted, they can take plenty out of this match and focus on the next game.
The second-placed Bulls and table-topping will have a buy this week - Crusaders host Reds in Christchurch on Saturday, while the Brumbies will be at home to the Cheetahs in Canberra on Sunday in preliminary qualifiers (or quarterfinals).
The Chiefs will host the lowest ranked qualifier and the Bulls the higher ranked team in the semifinals. The highest ranked team after the semifinals will host the Final.
Asked if he felt such a big defeat would be a psychological blow ahead of the play-offs, the Bulls skipper said have not lost faith in their systems.
"No, you are not a champion because of the result [in one match], it is all about your vision," Potgieter said, when asked about the influence of the Stormers' dominant display.
"At the end of the day we must just stay focussed on the vision and that which we fought for so hard.
"It wasn't pleasant to walk off the field and not have the win, but we collected a conference trophy for what we have achieved already this season."
He said they will go back to the things that gave them energy and made them strong during their nine-match victory run.
"Hopefully in a fortnight when we run out at Loftus [Versfeld] we'll give a much better account of ourselves," Potgieter said.
"A lot of effort go into it and winning the conference trophy is the first goal you set for yourself - from there you attempt to get a top-two finish.
"It [the conference title] is not nothing, a lot of work went into it [winning the trophy].
"You can't just dismiss it [the conference trophy]. It may not be be-all-and-end-all, because that is not our end goal.
"However, it is something we have worked very hard for."
Despite the margin of the defeat, the Bulls feel they showed character in the second half - after going down by 14 points in as many minutes in the opening exchanges.
"What you can take out of this game is that you can find yourself in a position in a semifinal where you are behind [on the scoreboard] and the players must respond to that.
"We must just focus on the plan," the burly loose forward said, adding: "That is one of the big lessons we'll take from it.
"In the second half we started coming through.
"At the end of the day, things don't always go your way and it is about how you respond. The key is when you have setbacks, especially early in the match, is to continue focussing on the plan.
"The reason why you have a game plan is not to change it when things go wrong. It is there to bring reward, whether you are ahead or behind. The key is to get the belief that what we are doing is the right way and even when the chip are down you have to keep the faith and trust your systems.
"That is what makes us strong and bring it through for us when it matters most."
He said they were up again against a side that really tested them and that there are little details in their process that still need to be worked on.
"We've had one or two adjustments that we needed to make the last couple of weeks," he said, adding: "We left ourselves a little too much to do in this match.
"The guys still responded very well in the second half, when we could have given up and allowed them to run away with it. That gives me a lot of confidence going forward, as that is the kind of mentality you are going to need if you want to win a semifinal.
"It is going to be tough and we can't afford the mistakes we made [against the Stormers], especially early on.
"We had two tries scored against us [by Eben Etzebeth after nine minutes and Bryan Habana in the 14th minute] and that was pretty much the margin at the end.
"Even though the result wasn't what we wanted, as long as we can take out of this and focus on the next game.
"All that counts is that we win the next game [the semifinal] and that is what we will be focussing on."
By Jan de Koning