The 3-time Super Rugby had a disappointing end to their Currie Cup campaign, but they must be optimistic ahead of Super Rugby 2017, writes Benedict Chanakira
The Loftus side could have had a very different game on their hands, had Piet van Zyl or Burger Odendaal opted to use their inside support runners. The Bulls’ inability to be accurate still proves to be a hindrance and should be a point of focus in pre-season. The Pretoria outfit has been impressive, continues to develop and must take heart from the 2016 season. This is a process for the Blue Bulls and their skills have continued to improve at the different stages.
APPROACH: B – The Bulls have a reputation of a kicking game, coupled with abrasive forwards and line out dominance. This has not changed, though the appointment of Nollis Marais heralded change. The Bulls have slowly integrated some minor attacking tweaks to their play and have reinforced the waning/outdated areas that saw them lack behind.
SQUAD DEPTH: B – The return of star players Handre Pollard, Jan Serfontein, Warrick Gelant, and Jesse Kriel will bolster the side and give them a lot more x-factor, experience and edge. The Bulls have at least two quality players in each position.
It is Pollard’s return which is greatly anticipated with the pivot’s vision and guile set to galvanize the side and a much more exciting backline.
The finalists thrived off applying pressure at the breakdown, through a stellar kicking game with young Tiaan Schoeman in particular finding the grass on several occasions while added to his arsenal some pin point kicks off the tee. Schoeman will provide some pressure on Handre Pollard if he improves on his temperament.
SET-PIECE AND BREAKDOWN: A+ – They had a willingness to play a far more balanced game this year as they stuck to their strengths of set piece dominance with their scrum and breakdown efforts improving and thriving under the tutelage of Blue Bulls legend Gary Botha – step up young Roelof Smit who had a stellar season. Smit has been a pillar for the Bulls as he topped the turnover charts with 22. The collective effort of the entire squad must not be underestimated with the Bulls proving most ferocious at the breakdown. This has enabled the Loftus side to score several tries off their turnovers.
Roelof in particular conceding a paltry 3 penalties on his way to tournament high 22 turnovers. In context, pinching the ball every 18, 3 minutes. Adding to his ability to slow down the ball, he has been the standout fetcher in the tournament. Making 62 tackles and missing just 2, the backrow forward has shown immense form. He completes an ever improving Blue Bulls pack that scours the breakdown together, developing offload skills and showing a strong scrum and line out. Their aggressive ruck contests and bone-crunching tackles allowed them to get to the final. Hanro Liebenberg, Shaun Adendorff, Lizo Gqoboka and Pierre Schoeman highlight the strength of the Bulls pack.
ATTACK AND SKILLS: B – The Bulls look to keep the ball alive and their offload game was unmatched in the Currie Cup. It has played a significant part in their try scoring exploits while playing in the right areas. The quality of young Jamba Ulengo has shone the most in this aspect. Ulengo scored seven tries and created six proving destructive out wide as he broke through tackles, achieved gain line success, scored tries and ran exceptional support lines. He used his array of skills ranging from evasive footwork, speed, power and vision. The winger alongside Travis Ismaiel, Ulrich Beyers combined to lead a destructive counter-attacking trio.
Ulengo has been the pioneer for the squad as the players are combined work rate, eye for a gap, dominating physical contests, handling skills and defensive commitment to advance their game.
TRANSFORMATION: A – The Loftus side made massive progress in blooding young talent and bringing it through the system while adhering to the transformation requirements. Aided by their excellent development work which doesn’t just include players of color but all players that need aid in rugby, the Bulls won the Development work award at the SA Rugby awards. Fielding six players of color starting and one on the bench, add a few more quality players of color coming through the ranks the Bulls have been excelling in this department.
The Bulls will face a stern examination next season when they take on the New Zealand sides in the tougher conference. What lies ahead requires a lot more clinical and precise approach. They are far from a complete side, but they are in the right direction. There is an evident mind shift and the Currie Cup was an opportunity for them to learn and prepare for Super Rugby. The Blue Bulls are ticking the right boxes and are on course to be the best once again.