LEADING ROLE: Handre Pollard
PRETORIA - They say winning is a habit, but in the case of the Bulls it is losing that is seemingly becoming a bad habit.

So it came as no surprise that they lost another Super Rugby encounter - this time to the Blues in Auckland on Saturday - and they are now staring a mammoth challenge against the unbeaten Chiefs in Hamilton this weekend.

This losing habit has quickly become the Bulls' monkey-on-the-back since they suffered defeat in their opening match of the season against the Stormers.

Excuses were provided for why things went awry for them in Cape Town but typical of a bad habit they repeated the ills of their ways a week later in Bloemfontein as they again came short against the Cheetahs.

Their weaknesses in the first two games were glaring to say the least, and apart from their standard excuse of poor execution, they continued to stick their heads in the sand in the hope their lack of intensity, unsteady set-piece play, and poor defence would be resolved by not citing them as areas of concern.

However, the problems didn’t go away and against weaker but stubborn opposition in the form of the Sunwolves, the Bulls were again guilty of not coping with the speedy intensity of the Japanese outfit, compounding their lack of dominance in the scrums and lineouts, while their defence continued to leak tries.

The win against the Sunwolves only served to lull the Bulls into a false sense of belief that they were taking a step in the right direction, but they were brought back to terra firma by a blitzkrieg second half performance by the Blues which saw the same old problems come back to haunt the Pretoria outfit.

“I think we were very competitive in that first half but didn’t take our chances in the second half, which we were supposed to, and we gave the Blues too many opportunities to score. We had a great scrum performance by Trevor (Nyakane) which gave us a dominant scrum and that was a big positive,” said Bulls coach Nollis Marais afterwards.

Marais will now have to reinvent the wheel and not only make structural changes to the way his team plays, but also to some of the personnel who have struggled to cope with the demands of Super Rugby.

As much as the Bulls possess potential international stars in their tight five, Marais will have to make the difficult call on who to cull ahead of what will be a make-or-break encounter against the Chiefs.

At the heart of the Bulls' problems at the moment are the combinations, especially amongst the forwards, with Marais needing to pick his strongest pack in the front row, second row and especially in the back row, where the bulk of Jannes Kirsten has been missed sorely on attack and defence in recent encounters.

And if those changes are to be effective, the Bulls will also need to work on speeding up the game and bringing about a greater intensity in the way they utilise possession, their speed off the line in defence and their ability to reload after the tackle has been made.

“We will definitely make one or two changes, but we will not be making any structural changes besides making sure that everything we want to put into place is ready for next week Saturday,” Marais said.

The Star