/SA Super Rugby strengths, snags: BULLS

SA Super Rugby strengths, snags: BULLS

Rob Houwing – Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – The
Bulls are three-time winners of Super Rugby, and still the only South African team
to have boasted the honour in the post-1995 era … can they relive past glories
this year?

Their
fixtures:

Sharks (a),
Stormers (a), bye, Blues (h), Jaguares (h), Highlanders (h), Reds (a), Waratahs
(a), Hurricanes (a), Chiefs (a), Lions (h), bye, Sunwolves (h), Brumbies (h),
Lions (a), Sharks (h), Jaguares (a), Stormers (h). Don’t play: Crusaders,
Rebels.

Their
record last season:

Second in SA
conference, fifth overall (won eight, lost six, drew two). Beaten 35-28 in
Wellington quarter-final by Hurricanes.

Five potential
strengths:

* Avoiding
champions the Crusaders in ordinary season this year (the New Zealanders won 45-13
at Loftus in 2019) is naturally very good news for them in roster terms, even
if starting with taxing away derbies against the Sharks and Stormers
respectively brings a risk of an unwanted back-foot situation early on.

* The
continuity that comes with Pote Human having a second successive season as head
coach: that may not seem anything special to some of the more settled outfits
competition-wise when it comes to masterminds, but he will be the only South
African franchise coach NOT making his debut at this level in 2020, has been
part of the broader Loftus rugby furniture for many years … and did pretty well
last year, when all is said and done.

* Considering
the dramatic extent of the defections after last season, the Bulls should not
be made to feel under too burdensome a weight of pressure to be instant market
leaders either domestically or competition-wide; there is the potential for
them to be dark horses, even as Human slowly remoulds his side after the big
shakeup.

* While their
workloads may have to be carefully managed considering the vast “miles” already
in their bodies, the experience provided by two returning Bulls old boys –
points-machine flyhalf Morne Steyn and second-rower Juandre Kruger – plus the
first-time presence of much-travelled Josh Strauss in their No 8 jersey should
have a constructive, calming and educative effect on several players around
them.

* Both are
returning from disruptive injuries in 2019, but if the Bulls can keep likely
first-choice props Trevor Nyakane, at tighthead, and still Bok-ambitious
loosehead Lizo Gqoboka (two Test caps as a substitute) fit and fresh, their
scrum has the potential to be more forceful than some foes perhaps anticipate.

Five possible
snags:

* For all the
relief of getting seasoned Steyn back, the No 10 void left by clear-cut Bok
incumbent Handre Pollard (now France-based) is pretty enormous, after his key
presence for the cause between 2014 and 2019. They will miss his muscular,
assertive raids to (and often over) the advantage line; Steyn and up-and-coming
Manie Libbok bring slightly different styles of play to the party.

* The quite
extraordinary loss of lock personnel since 2019. This year’s squad will be
without the services of three highly-touted internationals in Lood de Jager, RG
Snyman (that pair massive lineout and general athletic factors) and Jason
Jenkins, plus Zimbabwean-born Eli Snyman who has flown the coop to Benetton. Plenty
rests, you’d think, on the expected main combo of Kruger and Andries Ferreira
staying healthy.  

* A bye after
only two rounds (and no home game under the belt yet) isn’t ideal for the
Bulls, as it will then lead to an uninterrupted sequence of eight fixtures
without a break — including taking in the four-match tour of Australasia. On a
brighter side, the home straight toward the knockouts looks reasonable enough
for them.

* There is
pressure on their two primary scrumhalves, Ivan van Zyl and Embrose Papier, to
produce the sort of standards in the berth anticipated from key rivals like the
Stormers (emerging Bok impact sensation Herschel Jantjies) and the Sharks,
where there is nice depth with seasoned Louis Schreuder competing with raw but
potentially dangerous Sanele Nohamba, and Cameron Wright. Van Zyl and Papier,
both sporadic Boks so far, run each other close … but will one of them rise
notably like cream to the surface, which might be the most constructive
occurrence?

* The
disturbing, increasing lack of enthusiasm for Super Rugby from the Loftus
faithful. Remember that particularly embarrassing home attendance of 7,483
against the Waratahs last season, even with the Bulls looking healthily-placed
for a playoffs spot already? A good start, and some creative
marketing/promotions, may be important in getting bums on Pretoria seats in
2020.

Fabulous,
fair, or fallible?

Sport24
verdict: Fair