PRETORIA - How can a team so good be so bad? That will be the question haunting Bulls coach Nollis Marais after his team slumped to yet another Super Rugby defeat, this time at the hands of the Blues at QBE Stadium in Auckland on Saturday.
The Bulls are a far better team, on paper that is, than their results so far this season suggest. But there should have been some alarm bells ringing for Marais, his management and the players after losses against the Stormers and Cheetahs.
As if that wasn’t ample warning for the Bulls, they evidently stuck their heads in the sand even after an uninspiring win against the Sunwolves in their first home game last weekend.
But the wheels completely came off in Albany on Saturday as a porous and soulless second half showing saw them being put to the sword by an equally desperate Blues team, who walked away with a convincing 38-14 win.
It was not as if the Blues played their best rugby since their glory years at the beginning of the competition almost 20 years ago, it was that the Bulls were a shadow of the giants they were just seven years ago.
The half-time scoreline of 7-7 may have flattered the visitors but their first half efforts all came crumbling down at the first change in gear by the Blues - from a slug fest into a high speed dash, which left the Bulls for dead.
As quickly as the Blues were able to run in an impressive five tries in that second half, the Bulls morphed from being a side rugby pundits feared would lead the South African challenge this year to the cannon fodder they were at the turn of the century.
While the Blues were putting on an exhibition of the widening distance between the nations, the Bulls were showing the worst side and everything wrong with rugby at the moment in South Africa.
There was little or no defence to speak of and when Marais’ men tried to stem attacks, their tackles were ineffective and lacked intent.
Marais conceded after the game that they would need to relook their defence, which has leaked an astronomical 17 tries in four matches - and it could get worse with the fixture against the unbeaten Chiefs looming large on Saturday.
“Yes, obviously if you concede so many tries in the second half in every match then certainly defence is something we will need to have a revisit,” Marais said.
The Bulls sterile performance was further compounded by the many elementary handling errors they committed, with the few opportunities with ball in hand in the second half, which could have stopped the score from ballooning, beyond their reach.
By their own admission, the Bulls have struggled to put together phases of play when in striking distance of the opposition try-line, and for some or other reason what has traditionally been their strengths, the scrum and lineout, have been nullified by their fear of keeping possession.
“We made too many errors and couldn’t convert from our lineouts. We also had too many handling errors. We had a couple of opportunities in the second half to play from their 22 metres which we didn’t convert into points,” said Marais.
With five days to go before taking on the Chiefs, the Bulls will need to rectify the ills of their game or experience how a good team goes bad on a tour where things can get even worse.