PRETORIA - The knives are out for the scalp of Bulls coach Nollis Marais but the reality of their dire situation is that only the players can save him and the Bulls at the moment.
As much as Marais has manned up and shouldered much of the responsibility that has come with his team’s dismal performance so far this season, there is yet to be accountability from the players.
At the heart of the Bulls problems is how the senior players have failed and how most, if not all, of their Springboks have done little to show their international pedigree.
With only one win out of their six matches, there will be no better time than Saturday against the Jaguares for the Bulls to stand up. But the Bulls turnaround strategy will solely lie on who Marais selects on Thursday.
Marais said earlier this week that the rotation policy employed this season, was out of the window and now was the time to play his best XV. The Bulls best team chooses itself from a pedigree point of view but there are some big name players who have been hiding in the shadows of mediocrity and will need to man up in order to save their team.
For now the frontrow picks itself with Lizo Gqoboka the best loosehead at Loftus, while Trevor Nyakane continues to hold his own at tighthead. Former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss should just manage to hang on to his No 2 jersey but he will need a strong showing in all departments.
The budding second row combination of RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins still remains the Bulls best bet at dominating the line-outs, scrums, assisting with the ball carrying duties and cleaning out the rucks. Springbok lock Lood de Jager remains a threat coming off the bench.
Marais biggest nightmare is amongst his loosies where injuries have disrupted his plans.
Without an outright fetcher, Marais has persisted with Nick de Jager with little reward and should look at the likes of youngster Hendre Stassen and even Freddy Ngoza.
Jannes Kirsten should continue at No 7 but also needs to replicate the form that made him one of the most talked about loose forward prospects for the country last year and so, too, No 8 Hanro Liebenberg needs to bring it on.
The same applies at scrumhalf, with his two Springboks, Rudy Paige and Piet van Zyl, struggling. Paige should have the inside lane based solely on the performance he put up against the Chiefs before being unceremoniously substituted. Handre Pollard has to be the starting flyhalf and he has to remind all why he was the World Junior Player of the Year two years ago.
Midfield and back three
The centres pick themselves with two explosive Springboks in Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel, while the back three in wings Jamba Ulengo and Travis Ismaiel, with Warrick Gelant at fullback, is one of the most lethal attacking weapons around. If the Bulls are to win against the Jaguares and continue to do so the following week then Marais must place his faith in these XV but they too must come to the party and repay the coach’s faith in them.
“I do believe they accept it (the repercussions of their performances). At the end of the day a player is a player and all they want to do is get on the field and play and I must put certain structures in place so that they can function and we get the best out of them,” Marais said this week.
“The players accept and understand what the consequences are. The team is not at a place where they are happy and everyone is joking but we must be careful of putting too much pressure on them and an axe over their heads. They certainly take responsibility and are in a world of hurt at the moment and it is something they talk about every time.”