Super Rugby champions by 2018; this is what the Blue Bulls are aiming for. 2016 was a year the Bulls took a new direction, rebuilding the squad and a new coaching staff who are Bulls through and through.
The Bulls began to make several tweaks to their approach with an emphasis on moving the point of contact and an ever evolving offload game. The Loftus outfit’s defensive efforts went up a notch but fell short as was their overall accuracy.
The hopes from Bulls’ fans are always high, and the Blue Bulls should be aiming for the play-offs this season. The challenging of facing the New Zealand sides will make it an even more exciting season. This will allow the side to gauge progress and current standing.
The big positive going into the 2017 season is the return of Handre Pollard who is expected to spearhead arguably the most talented backline in South Africa. Pollard has struggled to be the general in the green and gold. The former Paarl Gym starlet is set to not just captain the side in the absence of Adriaan Straus and the Blue Bulls will be out to set a marker as the ‘premier’ side in South Africa.
The Bulls will benefit from some considerable depth in the year as they boast quality in most of the squad. Nollis will be a bit worried when he looks at his tighthead options with the inconsistent Trevor Nyakane expected to anchor the Blue Bulls scrum. The primary move to tighthead could be the due to the quality the Bulls have at loosehead with Lizo Gqoboka and Pierre Schoeman.
The Bulls have also recruited astutely from their junior sides and from the Cheetahs; especially bringing in Lood de Jager who will be hoping to regain his form in the blue shirt.
With Strauss out, there will be an opportunity for former Kings’ star Edgar Marutlulle to get some game time if he can wade off Jaco Visagie at hooker. The depth in the second row, the loose forwards and backline get better for the Pretoria outfit. This is a squad littered with aped, power, skill and potential. The perfect ingredients are available to Nollis Marais and his chefs. Will he be able to cook up a mouth-watering meal?
The Currie Cup saw the Bulls continue to evolve in their new approach to the game. A reluctance to play too expansive as they looked to feed off the errors of opposition and counter attack coupled with aggressive defence and breakdown excellence. Roelof Smit led the breakdown onslaught; with the team hunting as a pack despite the Bulls falling short in the Currie Cup final. Warrick Gelant, Handre Pollard, Hanro Liebenberg, Travis Ismaiel, Adriaan Strauss and RG Snyman set to be the sparks that ignite the Blue Bulls in Super Rugby. They should expect a successful campaign this year. The key question will be; how do they stop the New Zealand charge?
The Bulls must play the Bulls way with accuracy.
Gain-line denying tackles, aggressive breakdown contests, accurate tactical kicking and a chase line to match. The Bulls squad is full of quality, youth and experience. 2017 will be a step in the right direction as the Bulls look to return to their glory days.
Benedict’s Blue Bulls XV – Gelant, Ismaiel, Serfontein, Odendaal, Ulengo, Pollard, van Zyl, Botha, Liebenberg, Smit, Snyman, de Jager, Nyakane, Strauss and Gqoboka.
Bench – Marutlulle, Schoeman, Adriaanse, Potgieter, Adendorff, Paige, Schoeman and Kriel.
The warm-up fixtures for 2017 are:
8 February: Chiefs (Brisbane)
10/11 February: Brisbane 10’s.
The extended Vodacom Bulls training squad
Utility backs: Duncan Matthews, Divan Rossouw, Manie Libbok, Jesse Kriel, and Earll Dowrie.
Fullbacks: Warrick Gelant, Ulrich Beyers
Wings: Luther Obi, Kafentse Mahlo, Irvin Ali, Andell Loubser, Jamba Ulengo, Jade Stighling, Travis Ismaiel, Sibahle “Rabs” Maxwane.
Centres: Dries Swanepoel, Jan Serfontein, Franco Naude, Burger Odendaal, JT Jackson, and Boeta Hamman.
Flyhalves: Francois Brummer, Tony Jantjies, Joshua Stander, Tian Schoeman, Handré Pollard.
Scrumhalves: Ivan van Zyl, Andre Warner, Embrose Papier, Rudy Paige, Piet van Zyl.
Loose Forwards: Renaldo Bothma, Hanro Liebenberg, Freddy Ngoza, Arno Botha, Nic de Jager, Abongile Nonkontwana, Ryno Pieterse, Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp, Shaun Adendorff, Roelof Smit, Jacques Potgieter, Eduan Lubbe, Marco van Staden.
Lock: Eli Snyman, Hendre Stassen, Lood de Jager, Jason Jenkins, Ruben van Heerden, RG Snyman.
Props: Jacobie Adriaanse, Conraad van Vuuren, John-Roy Jenkinson, Martin Dreyer, Trevor Nyakane, Pierre Schoeman, Gerhard Steenekamp, Lizo Gqoboka, Nqoba Mxoli.
Hookers: Jaco Visagie, Edgar Marutlulle, Corniel Els, Adriaan Strauss, Alandre van Rooyen.