Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan is ingrained in the previous winning culture at the Bulls. Photo: Mike Egerton, PA
PRETORIA – Where to from here for the Bulls? That is the question coach Nollis Marais and the Blue Bulls Company board of directors would love to find an answer to.

But it is rather simple what the Bulls have to do.

Firstly, they need to focus on their remaining Super Rugby matches, specifically Saturday’s encounter against the Lions in Joburg before they host the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld.

Marais has already begun laying the foundation for the future with the selections he made last week and must continue in that vein unapologetically.

Marais’ blind loyalty to some players is what is at the heart of the problem as to why the Bulls find themselves with only three wins out of 10 matches. It was long overdue that he get rid of the players who are not being loyal to him.

The only loyalty Marais must show now is to players who are on form.

We saw a bit of that in last week’s encounter against the Highlanders and, though it was a young team, Marais should build on that performance if they are to attain the lofty heights they set for themselves.

Their success in 2007, 2009 and 2010 came on the back of former coach Heyneke Meyer building a young team from 2002 in the Currie Cup, and by the time they became champions, those young men had matured into world-class players with many valuable years of experience.

Heyneke Meyer created the blueprint for sustained success at the Bulls in the past. Photo: Kim Ludbrook, EPA

There are players who will be leaving at the end of the season for richer pastures abroad, and it will be pointless for Marais to continue considering them in his plans in the remaining games. So, the time has come for him to back those who will be around for at least the next two years.

In the past, the Bulls have never really had to look beyond their junior structures when looking for players, and they must now go back to that blueprint of backing those in the pipeline as opposed to buying others from outside.

But the players are but one of the areas that have let the team down this year, and they will also need to have a serious look at their management structure as most of the back-room staff are inexperienced at Super Rugby level.

Marais is a capable coach. However, he had no Super Rugby experience when he took over the reins last year and so, too, his assistants David Manuel and Anton Leonard.

There was also an overhaul of the strength and conditioning department, as well as the medical team, and that has shown itself in the sub-standard conditioning and fitness of the players this season.

The only member of the management team who has some experience in Super Rugby was defence coach Pine Pienaar, and the coaching overhaul proved to be one of the team’s weakness this year.

In order for change to be effective on the field, the Bulls need an experienced master tactician who not only knows what to do at Super Rugby level, but one who has enjoyed some success as well.

John Mitchell has coached at Test and Super Rugby levels. Photo: Tony McDonough, EPA

A quick fix would be to appoint a director of rugby with the experience of Meyer, former Lions and All Blacks coach John Mitchell or even Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan to the position.

Meyer and Mitchell won’t come cheap, and are likely not to stay long as they are in high demand around the world.

The logical and long-term solution would be to seriously consider a candidate like Van Graan, who was not only part of the Bulls management that conquered the competition in those three years but has the skill, experience and vision to guide the team to success.

Along with Van Graan, the Bulls should look to some of their former stars like Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Akona Ndungane, to name a few, to come in as consultants, be it at junior or senior level.

The presence of former players will also bring back a winning team culture that has gradually disappeared in the past few years, leading to a fractured and unstable team that has often capitulated at the first sign of pressure on the field.

The road ahead is going to be tough for the Bulls.

Pretoria News

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