The Bulls are no longer the aristocrats of South African rugby. For the better part of the last decade they dined at Super Rugby’s top table and left the rugby peasants in the Stormers, Sharks, Lions, Cheetahs and even the Kings, to feed off their crumbs on the floor.
From the top echelons of world rugby’s upper class the Bulls have fallen from grace and are now eating from the gutter after the 62-24 pasting they received from the Crusaders on Saturday at Loftus and are now left to painstakingly pick off the meagre leftovers from the other weaker teams in the competition.
Out of their nine games played so far this season, the Bulls have only managed to win three, all at home, against the Sunwolves, Jaguares and Cheetahs, but it was their loss against the Sunwolves in Tokyo that illuminated the disaster that was yet to come.
The record defeat against the Crusaders not only amplified the growing calls for coach Nollis Marais to step down, it also highlighted how low the Bulls have sunk.
The post-mortem of Saturday’s massacre won’t be pretty, nor will there be anything left to be positive about as should be the case with the heaviest defeat and biggest losing margin the Bulls have suffered in Super Rugby history at home.
The writing is now on the wall for the Bulls as they stand no realistic chance of making the play-offs but Marais remains defiant that he is going nowhere and he will continue to fight for his job and his team’s resurrection.
In the aftermath of their tour to New Zealand, where the Bulls lost to the Blues and Chiefs, followed by the disaster in Tokyo, questions were already being asked about Marais and his management staff’s aptitude to guide the team in Super Rugby and after the Crusaders beating even Bulls greats Naas Botha and Victor Matfield were scathing of both players and coaches.
“I cannot make a decision on that. I think there are two coaches in life, one that is fired and one that is going to get fired. The only thing I can do now is focus on getting the team ready. I know there are a lot of unhappy people and I accept it as well. I’m not running away from it. Whatever happens at the end of the day that will be the board’s decision. If the board think that I am not up for I will respect their decision. It won’t be nice but it’s a coach’s life, if one is going to get fired then they will get fired,” a despondent Marais said.
Marais refuses to blame the inexperience of his management and backroom staff in Super Rugby for the team’s woes and still believes that he has the right personnel in place to not only turn around their fortunes but to make them the dominant force in Super Rugby again.
“I believe I set out with a goal when I went to the board telling them that this is the plan, the way forward and the way we need to play. I will stick to that. I know it doesn’t look that way at the moment but I’ve always had results in every team that I’ve coached. I think that we have a good coaching staff and for me to say that I don’t have the right coaching staff to turn it around, is not the right thing to do because I remain in control of the team and I could have made a decision any time I want,” said Marais.
"If they want to blame somebody for anything it will be me. I will never run away from anything and I take responsibility for the team. I believe there are certain things we need to fix and certain things we can replace. I believe the Bulls will be a force, it doesn’t look that way now and I feel the pain, but if we live ordinary lives we will have ordinary stories to tell down the line."
Captain Adriaan Strauss said that the players were hurting after their non-performance against the Crusaders but they had no option but to fight for their dignity, livelihoods and that fading flickering flame of finishing in a respectable position in the competition.
“The loss itself hurts enough but to lose with that margin and in front of your home crowd at Loftus, that hurts. It can’t hurt more or less, it just hurts. We are very disappointed in ourselves but we need to bounce back."