Since returning to winning ways with an uninspiring victory over the Jaguares, the Bulls again pulled off an ugly 20-14 win against the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
As much as the Bulls stick to the script of their weekly mantra of having confidence and belief in themselves, their performances on the field speaks of a team still low on confidence and lacking belief that they can play a progressive brand of rugby.
Their horrid start to the season, where they managed to win only one out of six matches, would have seriously dented the egos and confidence of many of their individual stars and that would have been further amplified after their shock defeat to the Sunwolves in Tokyo three weeks ago.
There can be no doubting the immense talent that lies within the youthful Bulls squad. But that has proven not to be enough for them to be competitive in this year’s Super Rugby campaign.
At the heart of many of the Bulls defeats has been the high error rate emanating from the lack of basic handling skills and the team’s struggles to accurately execute their game plan.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais admits that “silly errors” are costing his team dearly and almost did again on Saturday against a Cheetahs side that had beaten them earlier in the competition in Bloemfontein.
Marais' need for a rapid elimination of their error-ridden game is the acid test that faces his side in the coming weeks as they clash against the Crusaders, Highlanders, Lions and Hurricanes, sides that are ruthless and put careless teams to the sword when the opportunity presents itself.
Marais has dubbed next month as “the month from hell” and it could very well prove to be the determining factor of whether the Bulls have an average or bad season.
“I think we didn’t play well in the first half and in the second half we played much better with ball in hand. Too many errors, same story every week, luckily the guys played much better in that second half and we managed to pull it off,” said Marais after the game.
“In the first 30 minutes we had four line-outs, we won only one clean so we were on the back foot the whole time. We knew they were going to put us under pressure in the set-pieces because they had done so previously when we played earlier in the season and in the Currie Cup last year. We need to be much better and have a better plan there. It doesn’t help getting the ball there and then we lose it with silly errors. That is something we are going to need to look into before we play the Crusaders.”
The men in blue did show some fight with their ability to claw themselves from a 3-11 deficit at the half-time interval to edge out the Cheetahs by six points, surviving a late onslaught from the men from Bloemfontein which could have easily seen them grab victory at the end.
Far too often this season the Bulls have played in patches and halves and that has also attributed to their undoing, a weakness which Marais wants to eradicate as he seeks an 80 minute performance from his side if they are to have any chance of conquering “the month from hell”.
“I’m proud of the boys regardless. When I walked into the changeroom and we were 11-3 down I told them to stick to the things that work for us. We shouldn’t have been in that position but I’m proud of the guys because they stuck to their guns and fought until the end. But we need to put up an 80 minute performance, that’s the thing.”
On the back of two successive victories, which the Bulls will take, warts and all, Marais’ men will now have a bye and should use the time wisely to reflect on how they can turn the ugly wins into inspiring spectacles that hand them the slim chance of making the play-offs.
Marais is uncertain whether the bye comes at a good or bad time for his side but hopes that it will buy them time to mend their walking wounded, especially with the crisis they face at tighthead prop with Jacobie Adriaanse looking to have suffered an injury on Saturday.
“We have a lot of guys coming back from injury after this week but the problem will be at tighthead with Jacobie (Adriaanse) probably injured now as well," Marais added.
"We have three tightheads on the injury list and we need to get them back so this week will give us some time to run them through and get them ready. I don’t really know when it is the right time to have the bye but after this we have four games and then the June break. I think it has come at the right time now for us.”