Bulls Super Rugby Preview - Green and Gold Rugby
Rugby

Bulls Super Rugby Preview

Bulls Super Rugby Preview
Jacques Potgieter with his Scott Fardy impersonation, Semi-Final 1, Chiefs v Bulls

Jacques Potgieter with his new Scott Fardy hair style and the music boom box pumping up the Bulls into the vibe of the Brisbane 10s. This enthusiasm should grab Bulls’ fans in 2017

The Bulls are the only South African team to have won any version of Super Rugby.  They have been in the final only three times and won all of them.

This was in a golden period from 2007 to 2010 and their fans will want them to get back to those good old days.

Bulls country

The Bulls are located on the Highveld in Gauteng Province. It’s at an altitude of 1,340 metres above sea level – about the same as Thredbo Village in the Snowy Mountains. Gauteng is about half as big again as the Greater Sydney area, but has about 13 million people.

The province has several provincial unions including the Lions whose ground at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg is roughly an hour’s drive from the Bulls’ home ground of Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. (Add the ground sponsor’s name in if you like.)

Pretoria is a University city and the executive branch of the Republic of South Africa is based there. It has a population of 700,000. Sounds a bit like Canberra, doesn’t it?

Wiki advises that languages spoken in Pretoria include 48% Afrikaans and 16% English. The Bulls also cover the huge north-west province of Limpopo (Wiki ref: 97% black African). The Bulls are a well-established union that stretches out into more remote areas of indigenous population.


Head Coach Nollis Marais with skipper Adriaan Strauss last year

Is 10-man rugby a thing of the past?

The altitude on the Highveld lends itself to rugby that features the set piece, kicking, penalties and wearing out an opposition inevitably suffering from oxygen deprivation. 10-man rugby is a logical strategy at Loftus. It is steeped in their traditions as though harking back to the old days when the Vortreekkers were circling their wagons into a laager for defence at night on their long journey north.

But it’s changing!

The Bulls have shown remarkable confidence in their coaching pathways. Head Coach Nollis Marais started with local varsity teams, Under 21 and then the Currie Cup. He had reasonable success with the trophy cabinet also. 2016 was his first year in Super Rugby where he brought a mandate for ball-in-hand rugby. Yes – it’s a work in progress.

Pre-season training in 2017 has focussed on conditioning (no need for altitude training rooms here), broken field play and quick ball. Marais has a close eye on the Kiwis who they meet in the Super Rugby draw for 2017.


Lood de Jager – playing for the Bulls this year

Personnel changes

The flavour of the team feels much like 2016 but there has been a lot of movement.

African squads tend to be huge in pre-season where Under 19, Under 21 and Currie Cup squads are merged. In this broader group, some 26 youngsters are listed as making it from the Bulls’ Academy and the Blue Bulls (the domestic Currie Cup organisation).

Key losses include: van der Merwe (France), Hattingh (Japan), Herbst (to the Kings for pity’s sake), Janse van Rensburg (France), Orie (Lions), Labuschagne (Japan), Kriel (Stormers), SP Marais (Stormers). Some of those losses hurt.

New signings are Jacobie Adriaanse (Kings), Conraad van Vuuren (Cheetahs – Currie Cup), Edgar Marutlulle (Kings), Shaun Adendorff (Boland – Currie Cup), John Kotze (Stormers), Sibhale Maxwane (Western Province/Stormers – Currie Cup). And of course the high profile Lood de Jager (Cheetahs) – easing some of that pain!

Hooker Adriaan Strauss may miss the early season with injury. Jacques Potgieter has returned from injury as has Springbok Handre Pollard (finally!) who is said to be fit and sharp. The Bulls should step forward with the experienced playmaker working the “play what is in front of you” theme.

Strauss and Pollard will share the captaincy but note that former Springbok Under 20 captain Hanro Leibenberg has also stepped into the leadership role in the pre-season trials.

Handre Pollard will be back in action in 2017

Strengths

  • Home ground altitude advantage.
  • Players to watch: Handre Pollard (flyhalf), RG Snyman and Lood de Jager (future Bok locking partnership?), and the dreadlockedLuther Obi has been looking scintilating.
  • The team is tight – Marais has sculpted the group for a very long time.

Weaknesses

  • The Bulls are still a young team.
  • Changing style takes time for things to truly gel. The Bulls performance was sporadic last year.
  • Travel distances.

Bulls set piece must demand respect

In spite of the emphasis on free-flowing rugby, the Bulls will do well to take their defence from the Currie Cup into Super Rugby this season. And the set piece must continue to demand respect.

Marais has said: “Our aim is 2018 but if we win this year, then why shouldn’t we give it a shot? But the play-offs have to be made.”

The Bulls are in the Africa 1 Conference and they play all the Kiwis teams this year, as do the Stormers. The Bulls need to win the Conference because wildcard status will likely be earned by the second-placed team from the Africa 2 conference, because they play against the easier Australian teams in 2017.

It’s not as big an ask as it sounds. It’s like the old joke when two hikers meet a huge grizzly bear on a path and one takes his training shoes out of his knapsack and puts them on. When the other guy says he’s crazy because he will never be able to outrun the bear, the first guy says: “I just have to beat you.”

The Bulls just have to beat the Stormers.

Beat those Stormers !!


Dreadful draw

The Bulls have one home game in the first seven weeks. Early away games include a must-win fixture against the Stormers (away) in Round 1, and then a New Zealand tour; so the Bulls may be slow out of the box. Marais has a massive job to keep up team morale until they settle into their home games.

There is a fascinating final round – the Stormers at home. The conference winners could easily be determined in that match.

Form

The Bulls were clearly behind the Stormers in the Africa 1 Conference last year and they got pipped by the Sharks for the Wildcard spot even though the Bulls played the Aussies sides and the Sharks, the Kiwis. They completed the season being runner’s up in the Currie Cup, which is often a good indicator of form going forward at the higher level.

A trial against the Lions in Zimbabwe was not very useful as a form indicator since the Lions played many youngsters, though they won comfortably. Last weekend they were pleased about making the quarter -finals of the Brisbane Tens at Ballymore. The Bulls stuck to their set piece but gradually opened up during the competition.

By all accounts they enjoyed the experience and returned to Africa buoyant.

Prediction

I’m calling for the Bulls to start slow, finish fast and top the Africa 1 conference ahead of the Stormers. That should please Nollis Marais and the fans who will both realise that it’s only a first step and that the experience of finals footie will help them peak in 2018..

Africa 1 Conference – 1st and automatic quarter-finalist *

Bulls Squad and Fixtures

* Overall position ignored, as being irrelevant.

  • Lee Grant

    That was a good preview Dru and thank you for including some of the background of the Bulls area because not many of us Aussies are too familiar with it.

    It looks like every South African SR coach is talking about getting their team to play a progressive style of rugby now. The Cheetahs started this off when Willie was playing for them and the Lions under Ackermann nearly got the chocolates last year with it.

    Fleck is talking about it for the Stormers as is Du Preez for the Sharks and now Marais is talking it up for the Bulls – the Bulls !!! Who would have thunk it. Don’t mention the Kings.

    When I first started writing in rugby blogs it was just after the 1999 RWC on the old SuperSports forum. They were all decrying the style of South African rugby after that Larkham drop kick knocked them out of the semis, and how they should change.

    Nothing much happened until quite recently and that mainly due to the dominance of the Kiiwi SR teams and their national team, and the studying of their methods.

    It will be interesting to see if that dog hunts for them because those national changes usually have to start in junior rugby. In this country we harp on about senior players not being proficient in tight play and set pieces – but we shouldn’t expect many of them to be proficient in that area when they didn’t have it drummed into them when they were younger.

    Likewise with the SAffers who learn the traditional way when young and not the high tempo way

    Its an interesting switch for them; so let’s see if they stay with it.
    .

    • Kokonutcreme

      Don’t overlook how the Bulls played when they won their last two titles under Frans Ludeke, they played great attacking rugby off a very strong forward platform led by Matfield.

      2006-2010 was a golden period for the Bulls, they were the most successful team in the Super 14 series winning 3 out of the 5 titles.

      • Lee Grant

        3 out of 4 starting in 2007 – they weren’t in the final in 2008.

        It’s amazing that the only 3 times they were in the final they won it.
        .

        • Kokonutcreme

          Should have been clearer – was referring to expansion of Super 14 from 2006-2010 which is the era they won their titles

    • dru

      The Stormers and Sharks for me, frustrate for never having had “the altitude” excuse for their rugby. All the SA teams are making noise about entertainment – no doubt the fans are spreaking via the turn style.

      Lions are sublime, Cheetahs ridiculous (no laager wagon circle with those two). Bulls I am very optimistic are bringing together a new meld of defence and flowing rugby – SAffer style in 2017/2018. Bring it on Marais!

      Coetze is the impediment, and damage he has done to the Lions halves (among others) is yet to be seen. Reminds me of Quades outburst in frustration at Dingo Deans ” now I do it my way”. Faf and Elton, just get on with it boys!

      BTW Craven Week through to Varsity rugby, there is no shortage of creativity in African rugby. Lets hope that people like Coetze stop coaching it out of them as they hit professional level.

  • Ryphon

    Pumped to see Pollard back in action. Tough schedule to start but looking forward to seeing what they can do this year.

    • dru

      How must Brummer be feeling? On loan last year (Boland, from recollection) as injury cover for Pollard. Was brilliant. But where to now with Pollard nominated captain?

      Hard to ignore Pollard back in the saddle though!

Rugby

Too small for the pack too slow for the backs - the exception that makes the rule that rugby is a game for all sizes. Qld bred rugby fan with an eye on South Africa.

More in Rugby

  • No Moore means hooker head job hunt

    Queensland Reds hooker Stephen Moore announced overnight that, not only would this weekend’s test against Scotland be...

  • Wednesday’s Rugby News

    Wednesday’s Rugby News has revenge on Hunt’s mind, Uelese signing on, World Rugby refuting claims Samoa is...

  • The Tuesday Top 5

    Hello, and welcome to the Penultimate edition of the Top 5. Well I think we all need...

  • Tuesday’s Rugby News

    Tuesday’s Rugby News has Clive Woodward on the Wallabies, Cameron Clyne inclined to speak, Cheika potentially in...