Two big strengths
The presence of former All Blacks and Lions coach John Mitchell will certainly change the way in which the Bulls approach and play the game. There have already been significant strides made by the team in last year’s Currie Cup and expectations are high that this team will one day be crowned Super Rugby champions. There is immense talent in the squad with almost half the starting team likely to be made up of Springboks. If the likes of Handre Pollard, Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager, Jesse Kriel, Jamba Ulengo and Warrick Gelant are able to fire on full throttle, then they could inspire the side to achieving something special.
Two big weaknesses
There is no doubt that the current Bulls squad would have been scarred by how the last two seasons have unfolded and it is getting themselves out of that psychological rut that will see them become a better team. The fact that they are the only South African side to have won Super Rugby in the professional era, and done so three times, is a noose around their necks that tightens with every passing season as the desperation that is born of expectation also mounts. While the Bulls may have a formidable team with the required experience, their biggest challenge is finding suitable and experienced replacements, be it because of injury or managing player welfare.
The return of Marnitz Boshoff to the kraal will go a long way in strengthening their stocks at flyhalf. Boshoff possesses valuable Super Rugby experience having plied his trade for the Lions after leaving Loftus. Boshoff fits hand in glove with the way the Bulls want to play, and is a deadly accurate goal-kicker.
What style can we expect?
Anyone who knows John Mitchell knows that there will be plenty of entertainment and tries at Loftus this year. Mitchell is a huge fan of expansive rugby and starving the opposition of possession. At the same time, Mitchell doesn’t compromise on defence and over-and-above his players wearing their hearts on their sleeves, he demands the kind of defence that creates turnovers and an ability for his team to counter attack. However, the Bulls won’t foolishly throw the ball about as the attack-minded Mitchell still appreciates the need for his team to dominate the set-piece and be physically dominant over the opposition.
Where will they finish?
They certainly can’t do worse than last year! There is an air of optimism at Loftus and rightfully so, with the big-name players and pedigree the Bulls have at their disposal. For a team who once ruled over the competition with a grip last seen during the golden years of the Crusaders, the Bulls should at least make the quarter-finals of the competition. As much as Mitchell is no miracle man, he knows that he needs to mentor this side to a place where they believe that it is only a matter of time before they become champions again.