Former Bulls coach Nollis Marais speaks a at a press conference. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/ BackpagePix

PRETORIA - Sport can be cruel. In fact, sport is cruel. As I sat on the edge of the Loftus Versfeld B-field on Monday nothing seemed different from any other day that has passed in the 16 years I have been a rugby reporter covering the Blue Bulls.

The customary Metrorail trains continued to do their scheduled runs from Mamelodi and the city centre is thankfully much quieter than before with the new funky blue trains.

There was not a cloud in the sky and the sun shone ever so brightly, only to be disrupted by the occasional cold breeze whose frequency was more than that of the trains.

The birds tweeted, the water sprinklers quietly went about nourishing the bone-dry fields that are stomped on by the Bulls players at least twice a day. It was just another normal day at Loftus.

But that was on the outside because deep inside the monstrosity of a stadium that has seen some of the happiest days in South African rugby - be it in the Currie Cup or Super Rugby - Monday was not a normal day.

There was a sadness about, an eerie silence that had been brought about by the axing of coach Nollis Marais.

The Blue Bulls Company may disagree with me over the fact Marais has not been sacked, but instead been placed on paid leave until the end of the domestic season, but all that is semantics.

As fulfilling and rewarding as the game of rugby has been to Marais throughout his coaching career, it showed its cruel side on Sunday, just like it had done to him two months ago when he got the boot as Super Rugby coach.

But I am disappointed at the manner in which theBlue Bulls Company (BBC) have conducted themselves in Marais’ axing, as they cannot truthfully say they gave him all the support he required at the beginning of his tenure as Super Rugby and Currie Cup head coach last January.

What the BBC did to Marais was nothing short of a hospital pass. They set the man up for failure.

Aside from there being hardly any senior players in his squads, Marais’ management was littered with inexperienced coaches at Super Rugby level and that contributed heavily to their mediocre showings in the past two year's competitions.

The arrival of former All Blacks and Lions coach John Mitchell as the executive for rugby last month came too late to save Marais, but maybe it might save the Bulls in the Currie Cup after three consecutive losses.

Now Marais has been made the scapegoat for all that has gone wrong - while his assistants David Manuel and Anton Leonard have been demoted to the under-21 team as head coach and forwards coach, respectively.

But there have been no consequences for those who sit in the air-conditioned offices at Loftus, who have made the decisions that have led to the crisis the Bulls now find themselves in.

Some of the problems that manifest themselves on the field are a symptom of what is wrong in the offices, and the individuals who occupy powerful positions and make bad decisions but never suffer the consequences.

Many of the Blue Bulls' board of directors seem to be faceless "suits" who never front up in times of crisis and have become reactionary, with much of their wisdom becoming outdated as they continue to bask in the distant memories of the glory days when trophies were a certainty in the same way that spectators and sponsors were queuing up to stake their place in the Bulls' kraal.

While the glory days of 2007, 2009 and 2010 are a fading memory and much change has happened to parts of the stadium with the addition of the roof over the eastern stand (and now the building of a shopping centre on the northern end), the real change now needs to happen inside Loftus.

Mitchell is doing his best to wave his magic wand but his changes won’t be enough until there are consequences for those who made the bad decisions in the first instance.

As normal as the frequency of those Metrorail trains increased as Monday drew to a close, the laughter of the players on the fields echoed in the distance and the shrill from the whistle of the new coaches in the junior structures sounded as enthusiastic as Marais’ in his first training session as Super Rugby coach last year.

I remembered in all the years that I have been a reporter at Loftus, that Monday was as normal a day as the glory days, but it reminded me of its cruel side as well.

Pretoria News

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