The way the Bulls started the season with an expected win against the Hurricanes at Loftus Versfeld was a high. But it was the manner in which the Bulls played their rugby that not only got their fans excited but made them a real threat to even the best teams in the competition. The emergence of players like RG Snyman, Marco van Staden, Thembelani Bholi, Embrose Papier and Ivan van Zyl was also another high.
The Bulls' inability to be consistent in performances proved to be costly. If it was not their pack of forwards wilting under pressure from the Lions then it was individuals letting down the defence system by failing to make their one-on-one tackles. Then there were the defeats against the Reds, Sunwolves and Jaguares that crippled the Bulls' campaign. If injuries are considered a low then John Mitchell was scraping at the bottom of the barrel with a lot of his star players suffering major injuries.
Warrick Gelant is a magician and he again proved what a special player he is with some scintillating rugby. He almost single-handedly carried the Bulls attack with his ability to find space in tight situations and his deceptive pace has seen him rip apart even the strongest defensive system in the competition. A star at fullback, Gelant showed his versatility by being as effective when moved to inside centre. Even his defence is something to marvel as he showed that he isn’t shy of confrontation.
Embrose Papier is certainly one for the future and could become a Bulls and Springbok legend in the number nine jersey in the same way the late Joost van der Westhuizen and Fourie du Preez are. Mitchell showed tremendous faith in the 21-year-old rookie when he dropped Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige at the beginning of the season for the lesser known Papier. His crisp service and ability to make the right decisions while speeding up the game fits hand in glove for the Bulls' attacking approach and he is also not scared of confrontation.
There is light at the end of the tunnel after years of the Bulls wandering in darkness. Mitchell has the players to mount a serious challenge in Super Rugby but he will also need depth in his squad to counter the disruption of injuries. If Mitchell has his way and can attract some top internationals to Loftus, then the glory years where they won three Super Rugby titles in four years can’t be too far away.
They should have received a better rating had it not been for the manner in which they dropped the ball in the latter stages of the competition which denied them a place in the play-offs. There is still much that the Bulls must improve on and they should. An improvement will be easy to see and that is when they make the play-offs and consistently beat the teams currently seated at Super Rugby’s top table especially the sides from New Zealand.