THE Border Bulldogs are looking to continue their learning curve this week as they gear up to face the Toyota Free State XV in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Free State currently sit second on South Section log while the Bulldogs are bottom.
“There will be a couple of changes. We have to see what we have got,” said Bulldogs head coach Andre Human.
“We can’t rely on one player and when they get injured not know what to do, so we need to see who are our backups and who can make the step up.”
This season has been a strong test of character for the team as they have become a semi-professional outfit with most of the squad made up of club players who are paid on a match-by-match basis.
These players are mainly amateurs to the professional rugby scene and before the season many had never played in the Vodacom Cup before. The latest two players to join the squad are from the Fort Hare Blues Varsity Shield side and will be in the mix for this weekend’s match.
“We are integrating club players into the team and mixing them with the professionals that stayed was not a walk in the park,” said Border Rugby Pty chief executive Lefty Ngece. “You can see from the performances that things are gelling together and I hope this will flow nicely into the playoffs and then the Currie Cup.”
Despite the uphill battles and tasks facing the Bulldogs, the coaching staff has done what they could for the team, which only began training together as a full squad barely a week before the competition started.
With the deck fully stacked against them the team has surprised everyone by impressing in the matches they have played so far.
In four games played in the competition so far, the team has only been thoroughly outplayed once, and that was against the Eastern Province Kings in Grahamstown where they were drubbed 60-6.
Huge losses were expected in matches against South Section leaders the Sharks and third-placed Western Province. But in both games the Bulldogs gave a good account of themselves, leading the Sharks for over half the match, before losing 46-24 as they ran out of steam, and keeping Province mostly in check for 60 minutes before going down 29-16.
Against the new team in the competition, the Kenyan Tusker Simba XV, not many knew what to expect, but considering they had beaten the Kings in their opening match they showed they were no pushovers.
The Bulldogs put in a strong performance, especially on defence, which was a huge improvement from the EP game the week before.
And were it not for mistakes on attack Border would have won by a more comfortable margin than the 18-17 they claimed over Simba XV.
Fan interest in the team has also risen with the involvement of the local players, with many turning out to see people they know in action.
“The local people are starting to appreciate what is happening as they are coming back [to watch] and I am happy to see that,” said Ngece.
“All that we need is to support the guys and I am sure everything else will take care of itself.”