PRETORIA - This week will be one of big decisions at Loftus Versfeld from the future of coach Nollis Marais to that of the many players who have under performed so far this season.
The Blue Bulls Company board of directors are allegedly meeting on Thursday to discuss Marais’ future after his team’s horrible start to this year’s Super Rugby season which was epitomized by loses to the Sunwolves in Tokyo and Saturday’s 62-24 record loss at home against the Crusaders.
At the same time Marais will be implementing big changes of his own in a bid to save his job and whatever is left of the Bulls season.
While Marais and his assistants aptitude to coach at Super Rugby level will be the only topic of discussion at Thursday’s board meeting, Marais will be making his own decisions on the players commitment to him and the team this week.
What was abundantly clear in Saturday’s massacre by the Crusaders at Loftus is that some players no longer have the heart to wear the Bulls jersey and whether it is their lack of belief in Marais and his systems, the time has come for Marais to show loyalty only to those players prepared to return the favour.
Most disappointing for the Bulls this season has been the lack of responsibility and accountability of their current situation by senior and international players which is now spreading like an aggressive cancer to the rest of the team.
Marais has made no secret of the fact that he will be making some big decisions this week and those will be reflected in his team selection ahead of the game against the Highlanders on Saturday.
“Yes definitely, it is a week of big decisions. I mean it is a week of big decisions for everybody,” a measured but assured Marais said yesterday (Monday).
“Obviously it is understandable (that the fans are angry) as well, it wasn’t a good performance from us. We as a team have to evaluate the game on Saturday and we’ve done that already. We will have to set certain things in place and try get the mindset ready for Saturday. I haven’t spoken to the team a lot and tomorrow we’ll have a bigger chat about the broader picture and make some calls. Obviously we have to look at ourselves and who is performing and not performing and everybody has to be treated on the same level.”
At the top of Marais’ list is likely to be captain Adriaan Strauss who has struggled with form since returning from a back operation two months ago while Springbok lock Lood de Jager is yet to replicate the form that made him one of the best players at the Rugby World Cup two years ago.
There has been a major void at openside flank due to the injuries to Roelof Smit, Ruan Steenkamp and Shaun Addendorf with incumbent Nick de Jager struggling to make the position his own.
Former Springbok flank Jacques Potgieter has hardly featured for the side because of on-going injury woes but even when he is playing, the Bulls have not benefitted from the years of experience Potgieter brings.
The halfback situation is even more crippling for the Bulls with both Springbok scrumhalves Piet van Zyl and Rudy Paige far from the form that made them internationals while the injury to Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard has left the team high and dry with neither one between Tian Schoeman and Francois Brummer making a statement to justify the number 10 jersey.
“We are looking at the moment at each individual player’s performance and who is lacking where and in other areas. Obviously it is a teaching role with the youngsters as well where they make mistakes and we will try and make them better. But we’ll have to have a look and see what is the way forward and who are the players that will be going forward with us,” said Marais.
Marais will also have to make a decision on the wing between Jade Stighling and Sibahle Manxwane to replace Travis Ismaiel who has been ruled out for six weeks after suffering a grade two tear on his MCL ligaments in his left knee in Saturday’s defeat.
Ismaiel’s injury won’t only be a blow to the Bulls with their remaining matches against the Highlanders, Lions and Hurricanes but it will also have an impact on the Springboks and SA A team which the lanky speedster would have featured for in June.