I have been a Bulls fan for many years, since even before I moved to Pretoria in 1985. I am a staunch supporter, although, I am not a fanatical supporter. I have supported them through thick and thin. Just a few years ago they were a bottom of the log Super 14 team. In 2007 they won the Super 14 rugby tournament and the very next year they ended at a miserable 10th on the log. Then last year they simply romped to a decisive victory in the Super 14.
This year the Bulls started off really well. In their first 4 games they scored 50-pointers 3 times (51-34 vs Cheetahs, 50-32 vs Brumbies, 50-35 vs Highlanders) and 48 points against the Waratahs (48-38). Then came that ill-fated match on 19 March 2010 against the Hurricanes at Loftus where the Bulls literally scraped through with a victory of 19-18. It was here that I saw something that I did not like.
In their first 4 matches (with those big scores), almost all the tries were scored by backline players. Only in their 4th game did a forward score a try. At the time it seemed like a welcome change for the Bulls, who for so long relied heavily on their strong forwards. It was good to see them utilise their once under-utilised backline.
Then came the 5th match at Loftus against the Hurricanes. Suddenly, all that running rugby made way for the old-style Bulls rugby in which they try to dominate the opposition forwards and then to drive through for tries. The problem is that the Bulls have done this for so long, and that other teams have studied the Bulls pack and strengthened their own packs so much, that many times the Bulls cannot rely on that old-style Bulls forwards pack anymore! And, closing up the ranks and keeping the ball close to the forwards all the time, simply isn’t working for the Bulls anymore. This was clearly visible in last weekend’s game against the Reds. The Reds simply ran the Bulls ragged. Somehow the Bulls would get the ball and lose it in no time at all to the Reds, who would start running the ball, which the Bulls had no answer to.
Would it be fair to say that the Bulls pack is no longer feared and that it isn’t so formidable anymore? Somehow they can’t hold onto the ball anymore and keep losing the ball to the opposition.
Another skill that the Bulls used to be very strong in is tackling. It has been through tackling in 2007 and 2009 that they prevented other teams from beating them. However, the amount of tries scored against them in their first 4 games is alarming. It is here that they have failed themselves and eventually assisted the Blues and the Reds in beating them.
What are the Bulls planning on their return to South Africa? They still have 4 games left (Lions, Sharks, Crusaders, Stormers). Out of those 4 games the easiest is against the Lions, which I can guarantee is not going to be easy, even if the Lions are right at the bottom of the Super 14 log at the moment with no wins in their win column. They are up for a really rough time against the Sharks, a rougher time against the Crusaders, and unfortunately, their biggest test is their last game against the Stormers, who are currently rampant!
All I can say is that the Bulls will have to play out of their shells in the last 4 log matches and defend as if their very lives depend on it. They are going to have to play hard, penetrating, attacking rugby for the full 80 minutes. Currently they share the top spot in log points with the Crusaders, but the Crusaders actually have the log lead because of a bigger points difference. If the Bulls continue to play like they have since the Hurricanes game, they will not make it. They need to unleash the backline players to do their thing. The Bulls no longer have that unassailable superiority in their front pack, so they can no longer feel that it is their guarantee to success.
Bulls, you remain my team and always will! So, just because I am a die-hard fan does not mean that you must take my support for granted or that of your other supporters. You need to play every game as if you need to convince us all over again that you are worthy of our support. That is how you can thank us for our support.
The Bulls certainly have the capability to go all the way again, they must just believe it themselves and play like there is no more tomorrow!