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Bulls have to be on the lookout for those ‘small things’ Leinster do well, says Nortjé

Ruan Nortje of the Vodacom Bulls says the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s game against Leinster will be crucial. File Picture: Steve Haag Sports, INPHO, Shutterstock, BackpagePix (13773583o)

THE BULLS are happily embracing the underdog tag ahead of their United Rugby Championship quarter-final against Leinster in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon (4pm kick-off).

While the Pretoria team ended above their opponents in the URC log, the Irish powerhouses head to Loftus Versfeld with a win over the home team in the regular season. But playing at altitude will be a different story.

The Bulls will be missing some key players in the backline – such as injured Springbok wings Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie – but with a full-strength pack of forwards that may include fit-again Marcell Coetzee and Marco van Staden, they should be keen to match up against their visitors with a packed Fort Loftus behind them.

Leinster, though, have been bolstered by the return from injury of centre Garry Ringrose and loose forward Jack Conan.

“I don’t really read too much into those things, but that is what we are hearing,” Bulls captain and lock Ruan Nortjé said on Thursday about his side being labelled the underdogs. “Leinster is a quality side, and the last time we played them they beat us 47-14. So, I think that speaks for itself and who the favourites are.

“But it’s a play-off game, and we are giving it a full go. We are at Loftus and the team is excited about the challenge.”

The Bulls have a perfect opportunity to claim the scalp of one of Ireland’s big dogs and gain some valuable momentum if they are to go to Munster for the final.

The defending champions will face the Glasgow Warriors in Limerick on Saturday (7pm kick-off, SA time) in their quest to reach back-to-back finals.

But a home title decider for head coach Jake White and his Bulls side is also not yet off the cards.

According to Nortjé, Leinster have developed a keen sense of when to strike, and they are almost unstoppable when they get clean ball from their breakdowns.

That is one thing the Bulls will have to counter on Saturday.

“They are very good at capitalising on opportunities and seeing the small things. That is where they beat teams. Defensively, it will be massive for us. We have to be way better (than their last game),” the Bulls No.5 lock said. “Leinster also have some quality coaches (including former Bok boss Jacques Nienaber), and they will be preparing them for that.

“We have been leaking a few tries on defence, so that is a place in our game where they will look to exploit us. Defensively, we have to improve, and we pride ourselves on our physicality. We are planning for that first 20 minutes, where they look to start with intensity. It will be big. We must make sure they do not get a good start.

“What will be key is for us to stick to the game plan and enforce it on them. The first 20 minutes will be important for the rest of the game.”

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