PRETORIA - Finally, it’s all over. The worst season for the Bulls in 17 years came to an entertaining but losing end in the same way they began their campaign against the Stormers.
There had been so much promise and expectation at Loftus Versfeld at the beginning of the season but the seed of doubt and exposure of their weaknesses happened in a season-opening loss against the Stormers at Newlands.
But the biggest issue to the Bulls campaign was in their inability to survive the first seven matches of the season, with six of them being away from home, and upon their visit to New Zealand and Tokyo, the writing was on the wall of a season spiralling out of control.
From a bad start, where they only managed to win one match out of seven, the horror show unfolded for the men in blue as they reversed the gains from their home wins against the Jaguares and Cheetahs by suffering heavy defeats to the Crusaders and Lions.
While their hopes of making the play-offs had all but evaporated in the record defeat against the Crusaders at home, it was the Bulls' porous and heartless play that will leave a painful and lasting memory from a season in which they should have built on the gains of last year.
And when they gave themselves a glimmer of hope and finishing the season in a flurry after beating the Sharks in Durban, the Bulls went backwards by losing the battle of wills in their loss against the Southern Kings and finally Saturday’s 41-33 defeat to the Stormers.
Outgoing coach Nollis Marais has been at pains this season to try and explain what has gone so horribly wrong for his talented but inexperienced side. Yet he conceded that his men lost to a better Stormers side on the day even, though his side had pushed them until the end.
“We must give credit to the Stormers, they are a great attacking side," Marais said after the game.
"Both teams scored some good tries but we had too many errors and we gave them the opportunities.
"I don’t agree with certain decisions at the breakdown but we were outdone in certain stages that led to two of their tries."
After presiding over a season in which the team only managed to win four out of their 15 matches, Marais won’t have any time to wallow in the misery of a campaign that saw him lose his job and will now have his sights set on making a better impression in the upcoming Currie Cup season.
Marais believes there are players such as wings Duncan Matthews and Kefentse Mahlo, locks RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins who have enhanced their reputations through the way they played and he will be looking forward to helping build them into world class players in the future along with new boss John Mitchell, who starts his new job as director of rugby today.
“That is the good thing for us because you always question how good players are when you are under pressure. If you are winning that is fine you can make changes and take little opportunities.
"But we didn’t have those opportunities. We weren’t good the whole season and when they (players) got that chance, they used it. They have established themselves as good rugby players,” Marais said.