Players make up for lack of finals experience with loads of motivation
The Blue Bulls have not won the Currie Cup since 2009 and hooker Bandise Maku is the last remaining member of the side that won the title seven years ago.
Not only is King William’s Town-born Maku, 30, the only player in coach Nollis Marais’ side to have played in a final for the Bulls‚ he is also the only player in the squad to have ever played in a Currie Cup final before.
But despite the lack of finals experience in the Pretoria side – even from players who have long been associated with the side, like Bjorn Basson and captain Arno Botha – there is no lack of motivation for the team ahead of their trip to Bloemfontein to take on the Free State Cheetahs in the final on Saturday (5pm kickoff).
Botha‚ the man who has led the Bulls team from the front‚ may not have played in a final before‚ but memories of watching his side as a youngster will spur him on when he takes to the field this weekend.
Vivid in the Bulls captain’s memory is his visit to Loftus Versfeld as a 14-year-old to cheer the team in blue.
It proved to be a sombre day for the then teenager as the Bulls suffered a narrow 25-29 defeat for the Cheetahs to be crowned champs in 2005
. “Just playing for the Bulls is a dream for me. I’m excited about the game. It’s nothing different‚ just another game‚” Botha said.
“I remember 2005. I was painted blue‚ sitting on the main stand. We lost that game against the Cheetahs. I’ll take that memory with me to Bloemfontein.”
With grey skies covering Pretoria yesterday, there was an unusual calm and quiet at Loftus ahead of the weekend’s crucial clash.
Even as players trickled in one by one for their preparations, which mostly included video analysis by both players and coaches, few words were exchanged, in contrast to the usual festive atmosphere at Loftus throughout the year.
The side was firmly focused on the task ahead. Of the few exchanges between the players‚ the most striking was when loosehead props Lizo Gqoboka and Pierre Schoeman arrived separately‚ but concurrently.
Schoeman approached Gqoboka’s vehicle and confidently said: “You are going to score two tries in the final‚ my bru. I promise you that,” before the pair embraced and proceeded to the team meeting room.
The Pretoria side has not changed much in their preparations for the final – something they have been working towards all season.
They are confident that not even the absence of coach Marais‚ who will be in Cape Town over the next two days for the SA rugby national indaba‚ will deter their preparations.
“The guys know what we want.We have an excellent coaching staff. If I’m not here‚ Dave [Manuel]‚ Pine [Pienaar]‚ Anton [Leonard] and Gary [Botha] are here. They know what we want‚” Marais said.
“If we only started preparing now for the final‚ it would be too late.”
Lock RG Snyman is unlikely to be available for selection as a result of a sinus fracture sustained in the semifinal against Western Province last weekend‚ but Marais will be pleased with the return of scrumhalf Piet van Zyl after a concussion.
The Bulls will name their match-day squad for the final tomorrow.