Pretoria – As the curtain came down on an erratic and soon-to-be-forgotten Currie Cup season for the Blue Bulls, there must have been plenty of thoughts in the minds of the players and coach, and the most pressing of these probably was: “Where to from here?”
What makes the future so uncertain for some of the players and coach Pine Pienaar is not the fact that the Blue Bulls failed to make the semi-finals of the competition after their dismal and disjointed 22-7 loss to the Free State Cheetahs on Saturday, but their lack of pride in the jersey and inability to show character when most needed.
Going to Bloemfontein, the Bulls faced the tough task of winning with a bonus point against a side equally desperate to make the semi-finals of the competition.
What set the two sides apart was that the Cheetahs played with the commitment of a side that knew their entire season hinged on one game and one result while the Bulls never seemed to get out of first gear and seemed stunned by the magnitude of the job at hand.
In the end the scoresheet did not lie: 22 points for the Cheetahs and seven for the Bulls, three tries to the Cheetahs and one to the Bulls in a complete beating, one the Cheetahs will lap up ahead of their semi-final against the Sharks in Durban.
“We really believed that we could come down to Bloemfontein and get a bonus point win. The Cheetahs are a quality side and we made mistakes at crucial times that changed the game, and they played off those mistakes,” said Bulls captain Jono Ross afterwards.
But truth is that the players not only let themselves down but did not play with the pride and passion that comes with wearing the Blue Bulls jersey.
As talented as Pine Pienaar’s group of players are, they never seem to learn quickly enough as they repeatedly make the same errors week in and week out.
In the beginning their actions were excusable – a young and inexperienced team still finding their feet with each other in the high intensity that is Premier Division rugby.
However, at the conclusion of the first round there was no reason why the Bulls should not have used the lessons learnt to better themselves. Instead, Pienaar was forced to continue with the same youngsters as the depth at Loftus Versfeld had been depleted by the exodus of many of their senior players.
Pienaar might have been at his wits end with his players’ inability to translate theory into action and with the little experience they had. But the Bulls administrators also failed the team by neglecting to make the kind of acquisitions that win competitions.
The most glaring and probably frustrating part of the season for many of the Bulls faithful was how the senior players in the team failed to lead from the front while the youngsters didn’t look to follow instruction and live up to the winning legacy of a union which is celebrating 75 years of existence this year.
The word character has been loosely bandied about at Loftus this season, but a look at the Currie Cup log tells a a grim story of a side that lacked belief in themselves as individuals and as players.
In the 10 games played this season the Bulls only managed to win three, lost six and drew one, a sad state of affairs for a union that has not finished outside the semifinals in the past 12 years.