The Bulls have not had such a bumbling start to the Super Rugby since lifting their first trophy in 2007.
However, coach Frans Ludeke remains optimistic his team can turn around their fortunes in a matter of eight days and beat the high-flying Lions.
Friday’s 15-9 loss at the claws of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein was their second consecutive defeat and, though they were able to salvage a point in the torrential rain that turned the game into a kicking affair, their performance was arguably their worst since their ascension to the top table of Super Rugby.
All the Cheetahs points came from the boot of Johan Goosen – a tactic the Bloemfontein side had deployed for this specific game.
The Bulls had little option but to kick for goal as they struggled to get any forward momentum due to their reluctance to engage in the collisions with the Cheetahs players. And when they did man up, it was invariably a flimsy effort that saw them mostly driven back in the tackle.
The only way out was to kick at goal and even then, they were fortunate to get points on the board as they missed three relatively easy kicks with replacement flyhalf Handré Pollard successful with two penalties and starting flyhalf Louis Fouché responsible for the other three points.
While the Bulls surprisingly managed to gain the upper hand at scrum time, they never used it to good effect as they often kicked away possession. They ran laterally and were out-muscled and bullied at the rucks that ended in turnover ball for the Cheetahs.
The rest was heartless and lacking imagination while questions will be asked about the ability of certain individuals at this level of the game.
Never one to pull the trigger when necessary, Ludeke still believes his team showed the right signs but lacked proper execution which the Bulls coach conceded was also the reason for their defeat against the Sharks.
“Credit to the Cheetahs, I thought they were smart on the night. When they got the lead they managed to keep us behind and in that weather we had to take a chance and push our hand at countering from the back,” said Ludeke.
“Our plans and tactics were spot on, just the execution was below par.
“We had enough opportunities to win the game so it was not a lack of performance. It was maybe not converting pressure into points and any individual can have a bad day at the office at some time. It’s a team effort and we accept that,” Ludeke added.
In accepting defeat, the Bulls will still find it difficult to turn the corner as they are seemingly in denial as to what is really wrong with their game.
The reluctance of the team to play a different game compatible with the type of players they have is one issue. And a persistence to continue with players who are out of their depth in Super Rugby seems to be the Bulls’ Achilles heel at the moment.
However, Ludeke looks set to continue with the same personnel this week.
“The vital thing is to be positive and take the emotion out of it because it is a disappointment to lose and we believe the next one must be the one (to win). That is the way we are going to plan and prepare.
“No player enjoys losing, it hurts. We must step up again, it wasn’t good enough,” said Ludeke.
But as long as the Bulls management and players remain in denial, their season will go from bad to worse and it won’t be long before talk of winning the title evaporates into thin air. - The Star