Durban’s humidity and heat, with a 2pm kick-off a fortnight ago, was tough on the players. It was possibly even more demanding than playing up in the northern hemisphere with temperatures closer to zero than five degrees.
Kudos to the boys for putting in such an emphatic display against the Cell C Sharks.
We’ve had the sunshine, the rain and on Saturday we get to experience altitude.
It’s another challenge for our group, but weather, match official interpretation and a hostile crowd when we play away from home are all uncontrollable. What we can control is our attitude and that has been our focus all week.
It is a given that we must match the intensity of our great rivals up north, and we must match it from the outset. This comes through attitude. We must make our tackles and we must play with accuracy and intelligence.
When playing at altitude, game management is always definitive to getting a positive result. We are known for a particular style, which involves playing the game at pace, upping the pace, and never being afraid of taking the ball from one end of the field to the other from phase play or on the counterattack.
But the very good teams don’t just play ‘off the cuff’ or rely on individual moments of genius or a fortuitous bounce of the ball. They play with rugby intelligence that matches the intensity.
We must be intelligent when we have the ball and desperate to scramble if needs be on defence. We’ve shown those defensive qualities throughout the past season and a half, despite being labelled as an all-out attacking team.
Personally, and this is meant with no disrespect to any other South African franchise, but it doesn’t get bigger as an occasion than visiting Loftus and playing a Vodacom Bulls team that will be charged emotionally and motivated to giving Jake (White) the warmest of returns after his recent absence recovering from surgery.
We did the league double over them last season, away and then at home, and edged them in the final. Those were three incredibly close matches and there was one score difference on all three occasions. This season we won at home in front of 30 000-plus on the 23rd December. It was a fantastic match, and it broke new ground mentally for both groups of players as we had never played a league match at that time of the year.
To get a crowd in excess of 30 000 was a compliment to us and the quality of the opposition.
I believe there could be a crowd of 40 000 at Loftus on Saturday, and that by midweek they’d sold close to 35 000 tickets. It gives me goose-bumps thinking of the crowd, the environment and the occasion.
It is a league match but any time you go to Loftus you have to be switched on mentally as if it is a play-off match. You drop that mental intensity, and you will get punished.
We have prepared well this week and there has been an off-field excitement that will translate to on-field intensity.
Our boys understand the rivalry, respect it and want to honour this derby with a win.
I have heard some say the match is more important for the Vodacom Bulls than us because it is an away match for us and we are better positioned in the league table, but for us to think that way would be disrespecting the occasion. Every game we play is important.
We want to produce a winning performance and build on the momentum from the win in Durban. We want to be consistent in our results and winning at Loftus would be huge for us.
We have the Cell C Sharks again in Cape Town on the 4th of March and we have put ourselves in a position to do the league double over all three our South African contemporaries after beating the Emirates Lions twice and winning in Durban and beating the Vodacom Bulls in Cape Town.
That’s motivation and it would be another first for this group of pioneers, who in the past 18 months have completed so many firsts in the franchise’s 26-year history.
Chat next week, and hopefully with the reflection of a winning result.