Blue Bulls skipper Gary Botha is determined to capitalise on the momentum his young team have gathered in recent weeks to climb into semifinal contention in the second half of the season.
The Pretoria-based side were always going to have a tough time of it in the Currie Cup this year with many of their star veterans out of the frame due to Springbok call-ups, and Botha was the man entrusted with moulding a bunch of promising young players into an outfit capable of finishing in the top four.
The experienced hooker admitted to this website that it was quite tough to get so many new combinations to click early on in the season, especially with injuries to key players like Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann.
The Blue Bulls captain explained: "I think the first half of the season was more about just finding our ryhthm, especially with a lot of new faces and some injuries also. But I think we have nailed that down, although there is still a lot we want to work on."
After some disappointing results away from home against some of the stronger teams in the Currie Cup the Blue Bulls did manage to turn things around and recorded consecutive victories over the Griquas, the Pumas and the Leopards in recent weeks which has brought them up to sixth position on the log at the halfway stage of the competition.
"The first round is past and we have given ourselves a chance now, I think for a bit we left ourselves a bit too much work but that is the Currie Cup and we are looking forward to the second round now," said Botha.
Any team would miss the likes of Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez, and it is their area of expertise - decision making - which Botha highlights as his team's biggest weakness so far this season.
He commented: "One area we can definitely improve on is our key players' decision making. I think that was probably the biggest issue for us in the first round, but there are always things to work on, as you watch the reviews of the games you figure out where you can improve certain things.
"I think that is the biggest thing that can either help you gain momentum or stop your momentum a bit," added Botha.
A shining light for the Blue Bulls in the last few weeks has been the performance of their young and hungry loose trio. Botha has been impressed with their intensity and is excited about watching them develop alongside more experienced players such as Potgieter, who comes back into the starting line-up this weekend.
He said: "Warwick [Tecklenburg] has played very well with Arno Botha and CJ Stander but we have got the likes of Dewald Potgieter who is now back from injury and we have also got a guy like Deon Stegmann who is now out with an injury as well.
"Now with a few older heads around them like Dewald and so on they can learn quite a lot and only become better. It is also great for the team, I think it keeps the environment sound so I think we are very fortunate to be in that type of situation," added the Blue Bulls skipper.
The way that the promising young players in the squad have developed in just seven games together has given Botha plenty of heart that they can mount a challenge for a spot in the knock-out stage of the competition.
"You look at our locks in Juandre [Kruger] and Fudge [Mabeta], you can also look at our front rowers - the likes of Rossouw de Klerk are sitting behind Werner [Kruger] and Dean Greyling so it is great to see that there are some young guys with older heads on them.
"If you look at the backline as well there is lots of talent running around and if we can just keep that up and keep the momentum then surely come the latter part of the competition we might be in with a shout," he said.
If they are to accomplish that goal then they will need a big performance this weekend at Loftus Versfeld where they host a Sharks team that brushed them off fairly easily in the first round at Kings Park, but Botha knows that it will take a big effort to hold them out after their defeat to the Lions last week.
He said: "We are definitely looking for a better performance but the Sharks are a very good outfit, they have got a lot of good key players and they will also be looking to come back from their loss against the Lions.
"They are always interesting games and it is up at Loftus, I think both teams need the momentum so hopefully we can make the right decisions, take the game as it comes and we will see what happens," added the Blue Bulls captain.
By Michael de Vries
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