Wandisile Simelane © Gallo Images
Given the way December affects many South Africans, taking time to switch off and enjoy a holiday in the festive period, it isn’t surprising that the new-found desire for rugby derbies at this time of the year is taking its toll.
And if it has been difficult for rugby fans, the first admission came from Wandisile Simelane on Tuesday as he admitted focusing this weekend was tougher than in a normal week because of the festive season, but as professional rugby players they have a job to do.
The Friday derbies are a first for the South African franchises as there was festive rugby over the first season of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship where this year there are consecutive Christmas and New Years’ Derby games.
And Simelane, while acknowledging the difficulty, believes the players have accepted it and will have to work their way through it.
“It’s been very difficult because everyone enjoys going to the beach in December and taking some time off. But we are professional athletes and we have a job to do. We spoke about this before and we knew at the beginning of the season we won’t have the normal festive season – we get a bit of time off at some time,” he admitted.
“We always knew it would be different and there would be different challenges with the Heineken Champions’ Cup as well. We knew it would be tough, but we are embracing it week by week.
“Right now I’m not even thinking about festive – I’m not in the festive season, we are literally working hard every week to get better and better.”
The Bulls lost three times against the Stormers in the inaugural URC season, something that has acted as a motivating factor for the Pretoria side, and while Simelane only joined the team this season, he has picked up an extra spring in his own step. players.
“It has motivated us. Against any opposition, whether the Stormers or Sharks or Exeter, we never run out wanting to lose a game. We always want to be at our best, losing to anyone who disappoints us. We want to win.
“We go into this game not worrying about what happened in the past but what happens this Saturday and what we have to do to get a positive result for us.”
The midfielder turned fullback believes that the Stormers have been playing an exciting brand of rugby and will be tough to counter.
“Any South African derby is difficult. We know how the Stormers have been playing, that exciting brand of rugby. We have a plan to counter that. Hopefully our plan works out. Without sharing too much, we are excited and hoping for a positive result.
“In South African derbies we analyze each other well. We expect them to rush up on quicker guys, and we will do the same to them. The opportunities will come, but you might only get one or two and it’s about making those count.
“We are very aware of the fact that there will be limited opportunities. It’s how well you execute that makes the difference.
Despite being at fullback where his coach Jake White believes he can build a case for international inclusion, Simelane admitted his love was still for the 13 jersey and he hopes he can get back to the midfield at some point.
“I enjoy playing fullback, but my No. 1 position is still outside center. I will play wherever the team needs me, whether it’s fullback, wing or center.
“I do believe it can help me achieve higher honors. The funny thing is that I always played fullback or wing at training, so I always knew I could play there. This is the first time the rugby world is seeing me play there. So, for me, it’s not really a big switch, because I always knew I could play there, and will give it my best shot.
“It’s not something that bugs me, I just want to get better. It also helps me understand better what players outside me need, when I do play at outside center.”
The match kicks off at 7.15pm on Friday night with both teams likely to name their squads on Thursday.