Former Waikato coach Warren Gatland feels the Bulls’ winning of the Super 14 title will be significant in the context of the Lions series.
Gatland’s old side face the Bully Boys in Saturday’s climax at Loftus, and while the old coach is now working with the British & Irish Lions, he does have some interest in the outcome.
Home advantage to the Bulls and the injury to wing Sitiveni Sivivatu are two reasons why his beloved Chiefs could fall short.
‘I’ll be cheering like mad for the Chiefs,’ Gatland told keo.co.za. ‘I caught up with a few of them when I arrived yesterday and we had a few beers. It’s great that they’ve got over their hoodoo and made a Super final, but it’s going to be very tough to win in Pretoria.
‘The 50 000-plus screaming fans will make it hard, and as exciting as the Chiefs’ backline has been this season, the injury to Sivivatu is a big loss.’
Gatland spoke about how players like Brian O’Driscoll, a victor in last week’s European Cup final for Leinster, have boosted the Lions’ side. A Bulls’ success this Saturday could have the same knock on effect for the Boks.
‘It’s a huge advantage to have players coming into your side that have just experienced that kind of success. The Bulls will bring confidence to the Boks. It always helps to have players who have won titles, as in pressure situations you draw on those players’ experience.’
The Bulls are the only South African side to have captured the Super 14 trophy having beaten the Sharks in 2007. The two teams then combined to form the bulk of the Bok squad that went on to win the World Cup.
‘I expect John Smit to start at tighthead in the Tests,’ said Gatland. ‘It should be an all-Sharks front row and an all-Bulls second row. They have plenty of options, but that is the combination I think they’ll go for.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg