13 February 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld
BULLS POISED FOR SUPER RUGBY STAMPEDE
Blockbuster acquisitions in the off-season have the Bulls poised to make major moves in the 2019 Super Rugby season. The game-changing signings of Springbok veterans Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits, from Toulon and Saracens respectively, have brought a new sense of optimism to Loftus Versfeld.
The past two seasons were dreaded, so much so that they seemed to drag on for decades for many a Bulls supporter. After an all-time low dead last in 2017, the men from Pretoria at least made some progress last year, finishing 12th, but much more was expected from a franchise with such top talent and an ex-All Black coach.
The John Mitchell ‘era’ fizzled out in a single season, leaving behind a team devoid of direction and in need to once again go back to the drawing board.
Springbok and Bulls icon Victor Matfield had looked set to take over the reins, but in the end it’s Pote Human who’s going to have to pick up the pieces and forge the way forward.
He started putting processes in place as Currie Cup coach last year, and has been part of the Bulls set-up since 2005, so he has rapport with and the respect of the players and will bring added passion to the table.
Having said that, this year’s competition is going to be as big, or perhaps an even bigger test for Human and his coaching abilities at a higher level than it’s going to be for his charges.
The Bulls certainly ‘won’ the South African transfer stakes.
The addition of the aforementioned star duo, Blitzboks Rosko Specman and Dylan Sage, and former Bok flyer Cornal Hendricks – who’s hoping to complete a successful comeback after a heart condition threatened to end his career in 2015 – to name a few have pumped significant power, pace, experience and skill into the Bulls squad.
New captain Lood de Jager is the ideal man to lead the former three-time champions back to the top and while that journey is bound to be a multi-year one, the Bulls class of 2019 have the look of a play-off prospect and will certainly aim for nothing less than a return to the quarter-finals.
De Jager is in his prime and will no doubt inspire his troops with his tireless work rate on attack and defence, and sublime set-piece play – the foundation of the Bulls’ brand of rugby.
Also key to their cause will be Vermeulen up front and Handré Pollard in the backline. A lot will be expected from the Bok No 8, not just in terms of his traditional responsibilities and leadership skills, but as the marquee recruit and new hard man of the Bulls, he will embody the heart of the side and as such, the former Stormer’s attitude with which he goes about his business will be huge.
It may have taken longer than most expected, but the prolific Pollard last year made the Bok No 10 jersey his own. His value to the Pretoria outfit cannot be overstated. He’s the Tom Brady of the Bulls – the centrepiece of the franchise and the most complete pivot South African rugby has seen in decades.
It remains to be seen how he’ll be managed with the view on the World Cup in September, but what is certain is that Pollard will have a major bearing on the Bulls’ campaign.
More than any one player, though, the success or failure of the franchise this season will come down to the direction, or lack thereof, of the side from the onset.
The #BullsFamily pay tribute to their superheroes… the fans! Expect to see a lot more of our real superheroes this season.
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) February 8, 2019