PRETORIA – A relatively successful 2019 Super Rugby campaign may suggest the Bulls have made it through their declining years.
Restructuring from top to bottom at Loftus may prove to be the right measures to finally stop the bleeding at South Africa’s most successful Super Rugby franchise.
The turnaround has been nothing short of impressive with Bulls coach Pote Human taking the reins weeks before the start of this year’s Super Rugby campaign.
Reinforcements in the form of influential Springboks Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits provided the extra oomph and experience that was missing in recent years.
With Brits approaching his forties and Vermeulen on the wrong side of 30, both may have been deemed a bit long in the tooth. But the duo silenced their critics and richly added to the character of the side and played pivotal roles in the success of the team.
Bulls stalwarts like captain Handre Pollard, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Burger Odendaal and Jesse Kriel were resplendent throughout the campaign.
The highest praise is reserved for the team’s beefy anchors Trevor Nyakane and Lizo Gqoboka in the front row. The duo started in every single Super Rugby match without showing any sign of fatigue.
Luring scrum guru Daan Human to Pretoria in a shared deal with the Cheetahs was a mighty coup, with the former Bok whipping the Bulls set-piece into shape.
Reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and finishing fifth overall points to massive improvements at a union that has seen its fair share of disappointments since their golden era at the end of the 2000s.
This is all commendable, but if the Bulls had to be brutally honest with their post mortem, they would label it a campaign of lost chances.
It was a herky-jerky season where they battled to string together a run of good performances.
Impressive victories over their SA counterparts were juxtaposed with home defeats to the Jaguares, Chiefs and Crusaders. Considering that the Jaguares and Crusaders will feature in this weekend’s semi-finals could serve as a mitigating factor.
With their backs against the wall, the Bulls found their mojo on their tour of Australasia. Their four-match tour of Australia and New Zealand was their best in a decade and consisted of a victory, two draws and a single defeat to the Brumbies. They were unbeaten in New Zealand with their matches against the Blues and Highlanders ending in stalemates.
While the Bulls gave their fans reasons to dream again, they now have the mammoth task of finding replacements for their star players.
The Bulls will say goodbye to Pollard, Snyman, Jenkins, Kriel, Vermeulen and Hanro Liebenberg leaving them with a gigantic player void ahead of next year’s competition.@ockertde