JOHANNESBURG - There might be a vast difference between last year’s soulless and inept defeat to this year’s, but the Bulls' inability to beat the Sunwolves yet again proved to be detrimental to their Super Rugby campaign.
While their maiden defeat against the Sunwolves in Tokyo last year signalled the beginning of the end for then coach Nollis Marais and some of his trusted generals, this time around in Singapore the 42-37 defeat at the hands of the Japanese franchise brought the curtain down on the Bulls challenge for the play-offs. And the men from the capital will have nobody but themselves to blame as they were once again found wanting in the one-on-one tackles and they also failed to close out the game when they were in control.
It was inevitable that John Mitchell’s side would experience some difficulties and growing pains in the New Zealander's first season in charge at Loftus Versfeld. However, the spate of injuries and the inability of certain players to step up when needed has seen the team fall short. “We threw it away. We chose not to stick to our process and we got bored doing the simple things as the game wore on which became costly,” Mitchell said.
Without the firepower of Springboks Lood de Jager, Trevor Nyakane and Travis Ismaiel - part of an injury list that includes Springbok tourists Lizo Gqoboka, Roelof Smit and Springbok Sevens star Tim Agaba - the Bulls went to Asia having to rely on a handful of players who are returning from long term injuries and youngsters who are untested at Super Rugby level.
“It was very clear before the game that we are patching up a side that has five forward pack members who are coming back from long term injuries and suspensions. And we also had a player who didn’t meet standards by being overweight. And we had a declining performance by two or three others who haven’t had a lot of rugby. We are a side that is trying to move forward by patching up and this is not a competition where you can turn up just coming out of a June break. We clearly threw it away, it has nothing to do with mental toughness in my view,” said Mitchell.
As much as Mitchell would have worked hard in trying to find the solutions to the frailties in his defensive system in their last few couple of games before the June international break, it was clear to see against the Sunwolves that the system isn’t broken but rather the individuals are letting the system down.