Brumbies prop Ben Alexander prepares to tackle Gurthro Steenkamp of Bulls the last time the teams met at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on February 20, 2010. Photo: GETTY IMAGES Photo: firstname.lastname@example.org
ACT Brumbies prop Ben Alexander has told his youthful outfit to embrace the physical and mental test of playing at altitude against the Bulls at Pretoria this Sunday.
Alexander is one of the few Brumbies who have experienced the suffocating effects of playing above sea level against one of Super Rugby's heavyweights.
He is looking forward to witnessing how the majority of his teammates handle their first taste of altitude football.
The Brumbies led the Bulls 21-20 at half-time in their last match at Loftus Versfeld early in the 2010 season, before being overrun in the second half to lose 50-32.
''It [playing at altitude] definitely hurts the lungs and you think maybe you're not as fit as you think you are, but if you can just push through the initial shock and keep pushing through, generally you'll be all right,'' Alexander said yesterday.
''This is the biggest game the Brumbies have had for quite a few years, and the biggest game in a lot of guys' careers to date, and part of that is playing at altitude for the first time.
''If they can mentally push past it, we'll be fine, but we'll just have to wait and see.''
In an attempt to adjust to the thinner oxygen levels, the Brumbies will stray from tradition and base themselves in the highveldt.
In previous years the Brumbies have stayed at the more comfortable coastal regions, before heading to higher ground.
Alexander said coach Jake White, preparing for his first match with the Brumbies in his homeland, had a few tricks up his sleeve.
''Jake's mapped out two weeks on the highveldt, where the previous Brumbies coaches may have spent time down the coast and headed up,'' Alexander said.
''He's picked out a few spots to take us to do a few things, like go on safari.
''That's Jake's influence already, keeping us on the highveldt rather than heading down to the nicer places like Durban and Cape Town.''
The Brumbies are brimming with confidence after their 37-6 thrashing of the Melbourne Rebels at Canberra Stadium last weekend. It was their fourth win in seven matches, and allowed them to retain a narrow lead atop the Australian conference.
Facing the Bulls on enemy territory in front of a hostile crowd is a much tougher proposition.
Alexander said the Brumbies had identified the Rebels match as the start of the most crucial month in their season. After the Bulls they face the Lions in Johannesburg, before a tough home assignment against fierce rival the NSW Waratahs.
''Jake's spoken about how this month will dictate where we finish,'' Alexander said.
''This [South Africa] trip is half of that month and it's absolutely vital we come away with wins and points.
''One thing we've done really well so far is every game we've picked up at least one bonus point and that's kept us on top of the log.
''We've fought for everything we've got and that will give the boys a lot of confidence we can play for 80 minutes and there's good ticker in this team. We'll keep fighting and scrapping for every point.''
Super Rugby round nine: Pretoria Bulls v ACT Brumbies at Loftus Versfeld, 3.10am.
TV time: Live on Fox Sports 2.