Bulls coach John Mitchell has called on his employers to beef up the current squad with big name players if they have ambitions of being title contenders in next year’s Super Rugby competition.
It has been five years since the Bulls played in the Super Rugby play-offs and even though they began this season with a lot of promise, injuries to many of their Springboks and frontline players saw their play-off aspirations disappear with losses in the second half of the competition.
The Bulls have had to play the latter stage of Super Rugby without the likes of Springboks Lood de Jager and Trevor Nyakane, while SA Sevens star Tim Agaba and Springbok tourist Lizo Gqoboka have also had their season curtailed by injuries.
Springbok lock Jason Jenkins missed the last two matches of the season due to injury and so too regular captain Burger Odendaal, who didn’t play the last three games - while Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard did not feature in Saturday’s 38-12 defeat against the Lions at Ellis Park because of a back injury.
Springbok wing Jamba Ulengo has also been on the sidelines for the greater part of the season because of a knee injury, while Travis Ismaiel has only featured in half the matches due to various complaints.
“We were right in contention in this competition right until the second round against the Sharks (a 39-33 loss at Loftus). The one thing we haven’t been able to control is the number of game impact injuries," Mitchell said.
"We lost a number to injuries and two props to 10 weeks of suspensions.
"Those are critical losses. The one thing that cost us is basically game injuries and a lack of depth adapting to Super Rugby level."
Mitchell has now gone cap-in-hand to his employers and the Blue Bulls Company board of directors in a two-day strategy session that began in Johannesburg yesterday, in an effort to convince them to spend big during the current shopping window.
Top of Mitchell’s list is Springbok hard man and Kubota Spears eighthman Duane Vermeulen, as well as prop Frans Malherbe, veteran hooker Schalk Britz, flank Jean-Luc du Preez and Lions loose forward Cyle Brink.
Mitchell strongly believes that if the Bulls are going to be a force again in Super Rugby they need to have at least two teams of players with experience, mostly at the international standard.
“We have a good process and have very good systems. We are going to have to recruit, it is as simple as that. We have to change our model from quantity to quality and we have to create two teams of Super Rugby quality to be able to handle and manage loads, injuries and stop exposing youngsters too quickly in this competition and overplaying them," Mitchell said.
"You can’t handle this competition relying on a smearing of test players and expect them to be able to last a full season."
On top of the increasing pressure to bring silverware back at Loftus Versfeld after last winning Super Rugby in 2010 and the Currie Cup in 2009, the Blue Bulls Company are yet to secure Mitchell’s services beyond October next year, after the New Zealander recently rejected an initial offer to extend his contract.