PRETORIA – The stats paint a grim picture and could easily leave the Loftus Versfeld faithful saying “here we go again.”
But the Bulls’ one victory in four outings in this year’s Super Rugby needs to be looked at in isolation and should not be compared to how the team has fared in previous seasons.
Yes, they have seemingly run out of steam when they had the opposition against the ropes in their three matches in Australia and New Zealand.
And yes, there is still a naïve approach to the manner in which they play but there can be no doubt that the Bulls have made some progress under the guidance of John Mitchell.
That was glaringly evident in their season opener against the Hurricanes where their new found belief in themselves and their system took the New Zealanders by surprise.
As much as results haven’t gone their way in the losses against the Lions at home, the Reds in Brisbane, the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Crusaders in Christchurch, there were enough flashes of brilliance on both attack and defence to prove that the Bulls are on the right track.
While Mitchell and his team will be judged by results, there is an air of optimism around the Bulls’s return home and how they will fare from the lessons learnt on their tour when they face the Stormers on Saturday at Loftus.
Firstly, all of the Bulls’ senior players have stepped up to the challenge laid down Mitchell with prop Trevor Nyakane, lock Lood de Jager, flyhalf Handre Pollard and fullback Warrick Gelant making valuable contributions.
But it has been the contributions of the lesser heralded players such as Pierre Schoeman, Jaco Visagie, RG Snyman, Hanro Libenberg, Thembelani Bholi, Embrose Papier, Johnny Kotze and Divan Rossouw that has fuelled the belief that the sleeping giant in Pretoria is finally waking up.
Even though the Bulls showed a glimpse of the team they can become, it is their inability to sustain their performance throughout the mandatory 80 minutes and a little beyond that has been their greatest Achilles heel so far this season.
On more familiar territory and with the Loftus faithful still behind them, Mitchell sees results going a different way for them as long as they can heed the lessons from their shortcomings on tour.
“We must take learnings and transfer them to a familiar environment. But I have been impressed with attitude and work ethic. It is about keeping frustration away from them that’s important when you grow.
“I have to remain patient in their development as well,” Mitchell said.
In what will be an emotionally charged derby against the old foe, the Bulls will have to muster all of their strength - physically and psychologically - to overcome a Stormers team that are coming off the back of two successive victories over the Blues and Reds and will want to go for the jugular against a Bulls side that has been weakened by the string of losses they have suffered.
But if the Bulls can stay longer in the contest and eradicate their weaknesses then the Stormers are in for a long day in the office and so too many other sides who are yet to face the Bulls this season.