JOHANNESBURG – By the time the final round-robin game of this year’s Super Rugby competition kicks off at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria at 5.15pm on Saturday, the Bulls and Lions will know exactly what is required of them to qualify for the quarter-finals next week.
Sitting in fifth (Bulls) and sixth (Lions) place, but with neither side guaranteed of their place in the last eight, one would think the winner on Saturday will be assured of a quarter-finals spot.
The loser probably not, but they could still sneak in if other results earlier in the round go their way, while a draw and two points each would probably be enough to see them both advance.
Advantage or disadvantage then for the players, knowing what’s at stake before kick-off?
“I didn’t even know we were playing the last game,” said Aphiwe Dyantyi on Tuesday. “That’s something for the coaches to think about. I just want to go out and play rugby and enjoy myself, do my job.”
It really shouldn’t make any difference to the players or the coaches; they’ll always still want to win, no matter where they play or who against. And Dyantyi isn’t too fazed either about taking on the Bulls at a place that was once considered extremely intimidating for visiting teams – Loftus Versfeld.
“It’s like a home ground for me,” he said when quizzed about playing at Lotfus this weekend.
“We trained there in preparation for the New Zealand Test last year, and at the end of the day rugby is rugby; I go out on the field to enjoy myself, whether it is here or in New Zealand.
“Of course it’s always good playing in front of your own fans, but we’re pros and must do what we need to do considering what is at stake this weekend, the fact we need to get a positive result. Playing at Loftus doesn’t change anything; both teams are used to the conditions, both teams play on the Highveld, so no-one gets an advantage.”
It has been an up-and-down season for all the South African teams, with the Lions having won eight of 15, the Bulls and Stormers seven and the Sharks six. Dyantyi said the fans should not be comparing this year’s Lions team to the ones that played in the final in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“We have new players in the team, we tried a few different things this year, but we also need to complement the other teams who’ve come up. And, everyone has been trying to prove a point in a World Cup year, so it’s been really competitive and unpredictable. It’s been one of those years where everyone has been able to beat anyone; I mean look at the Crusaders losing in Fiji the other day. It’s been tight and it’ll be that way to the final.”
Regarding his personal form, which has shown an upwards curve in recent weeks, the flying winger said he was pleased with his current form.
“Coming from last season you can imagine there was a lot of expectation (of me to perform at a high level again). It hasn’t been easy from last season; there were expectations and I struggled with some niggles. But, I was given time off, to sort things out, do my rehab work, and right now I’m enjoying the space I’m in. I’m steadily building (to where I want to be).”
And that’s possibly Japan and the World Cup, but not that Dyantyi is even thinking about that. “I’m not even in the team yet. All I want to do is play well for my franchise to stand a chance of making that team.
My focus is on the Lions, and that’s it.”