PRETORIA - In what will probably be the final piece of the puzzle in their restructuring, Bulls executive for rugby John Mitchell will tighten his grip of control at Loftus Versfeld after being confirmed as Super Rugby head coach and the man in charge of defence including the age group sides.
Mitchell, who arrived in the capital in July, has already made an impression on his bosses after taking over an ailing Blue Bulls side in the Currie Cup and taking them all the way to the semi-finals.
The same will be expected of Mitchell in the Super Rugby competition after a dismal run of four consecutive years without making the play-offs, which has had a huge impact on the coffers of the three times Super Rugby champions.
Former Bulls Super Rugby coach Nollis Marais has fallen down the coaching pecking order and will now be head coach of the Under-19 side while his former assistants David Manuel and Anton Leonard will be head coach and forwards coach of the SuperSport Challenge and Under-21 sides.
Mitchell has also shown his hand when it comes to playing personnel by the acquisition of former Southern Kings flank Thembelani Bholi and prop Frans van Wyk for Super Rugby while Springbok Sevens star Tim Agaba and Stedman Gans will join the squad after the first four Sevens tournaments.
Former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss is not guaranteed his place and will have to fight for his place in the side against Edgar Marutlulle and Junior Springbok Johan Grobbelaar.
The Bulls will have a star-studded second row which includes Springbok lock Lood de Jager, rising stars RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins while youngsters Ruben van Heerden, Aston Fortuin and Eli Snyman will be pushing for berths in the side.
Springbok scrumhalf Rudy Paige is staying put at Loftus after rumours surfaced that he would be heading back to the Lions, while exciting Junior Springbok Embrose Papier has been added to the squad.
Mitchell has also shown his vision of planning for the future by bringing in a group of youngsters who he believes will be playing Super Rugby soon in Gerhard Steenekamp (prop), Denzil Hill, Eduan Lubbe, Jaco Bezuidenhout, Kwezi Mafu (all loose forwards) and Andell Loubser (utility back).
“We are all pretty excited to get the pre-season underway and start putting the hard yards in,” Mitchell said. “The squad shows a good combination of old hands and young upstarts and they all know one thing, no spot in the final squad is guaranteed. Everyone will have to contribute and work very hard to make it into the final group and that will bring some competition in the squad, something that will benefit us in the long run.”
The Bulls will play three Super Rugby warm-up matches against the Lions at Ellis Park and the Sharks in Polokwane (both on 27 January) and the Stormers at the Stub Hub Centre in Los Angeles a week later.
Bulls Super Rugby training squad:
Props: Pierre Schoeman, Trevor Nyakane, Lizo Gqoboka, Conraad van Vuuren, John-Roy Jenkinson, Frans van Wyk, Mox Mxoli, Matthys Basson, Gerhard Steenekamp (injured).
Hookers: Jaco Visagie, Adriaan Strauss, Edgar Marutlulle, Johan Grobbelaar, Jan-Henning Campher, Corniel Els (injured).
Locks: Jason Jenkins, RG Snyman, Lood de Jager, Aston Fortuin, Ruben van Heerden, Eli Snyman, Abongile Nonkontwana.
Loose Forwards: Roelof Smit, Jacques Potgieter, Hanro Liebenberg, Ruan Steenkamp (injured), Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, Hendré Stassen (injured), Marco van Staaden, Tim Agaba, Thembelani Bholi, Shaun Adendorff, Boom Prinsloo, Denzil Hill, Eduan Lubbe, Jaco Bezuidenhout, Kwezi Mafu, Ryno Pieterse.
Scrumhalves: Ivan van Zyl (injured), Andre Warner, Embrose Papier, Theo Maree, Rudy Paige.
Flyhalves: Handre Pollard, Marnitz Boshoff, Manie Libbok, Tony Jantjies, Tinus de Beer.
Midfielders: Jesse Kriel, Dries Swanepoel, Johnny Kotze, Ulrich Beyers, Stedman Gans, Burger Odendaal, Francois Brummer (Japan), JT Jackson (injured).
Outside backs: Warrick Gelant, Travis Ismaiel, Jamba Ulengo, Duncan Matthews, Jade Stighling, Franco Naude, Divan Rossouw, Andell Loubser.
Bulls Super Rugby Management team:
Head Coach and Defense: John Mitchell
Skills, attack and kicking: Hayden Groepes
Forward Coach & Lineouts: Pote Human
Forward Coach & Scrums: Gary Botha
Baggage and Kit Master: Elias Bennett
Team Doctor: Dr Herman Rossouw
Team Physios: Lance Lemmetjies & Pieter du Plessis
Senior Rehab specialist: Juandre Williams
Strength & Conditioning Coaches: Jacus Coetzee and Ghafoer Luckan
Technical Analysist: John William Meyer