PRETORIA - The Blue Bulls Currie Cup campaign might not have ended with the trophy in their hands but they would have done enough growing this season to know that it is only a matter of time before they become champions.
Having done exceptionally well to come out of a downward spiral that had threatened to see them finish at the basement of the log, the Bulls showed signs of a team on the up and certain title contenders in the future after their 37-27 semi-final loss against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
Much of the Bulls turnaround was brought about when executive for rugby John Mitchell took over the reins of the team from Nollis Marais and within seven weeks Mitchell turned the side from the whipping boys of the competition to an outfit that almost toppled title favourites the Sharks on their home ground. The Bulls would feel that they could have done much better in the semi-final and how the two soft early tries probably cost them at the end. Mitchell has always emphasised that the Currie Cup is not the team’s final destination and that they are building to achieving bigger things.
“If you look at it in the context of the score in the end if we didn’t give away two softies then we would have taken advantage of the scoreline but who knows? A start is really important in finals football and you also have to sometimes win ugly as well, so one has to admire the way the guys fought,” said Mitchell.
“I guess a lot of people will judge what they see as success around us but what is more important for us is to make our own judgements on a successful season. We’ve been through an enormous amount of change, we’ve had the opportunity to develop and unleash some young guys and we need to look at the growth that’s occurred rather than focus on the outcome and the result.”
And in the absence of their Springboks and some of their frontline players who are plying their trade in Japan, Mitchell has been able to establish a solid foundation on the new path he wants the team to embark on.
The exposure to senior rugby of youngsters like JT Jackson, Aston Fortuin, Ruben van Heerden and Johan Grobbelaar has created a depth that will be crucial in the Bulls ambitions to dominate domestic and Super Rugby again.
As disappointed as Mitchell was at not seeing his team to the final, he believes they will be better off for the metamorphosis they have undergone this season and that they are on the right path to silverware.
“We’ve got internationals to come back and the Japanese players to come back. We’ve got a lot of players injured as well that haven’t even featured in this competition and we’ve unearthed about 11 under-21 players and we have a very good under-21 side in the country,” Mitchell said.
"We as a club are building a training methodology, work ethic, culture and climate that is about earning it and working hard rather than one that is around entitlement. If there is one thing that these guys have learnt in the last 13 weeks is how to earn it and work hard for it. We are on the right path."