Lood de Jager says a poor start to the 2019 season may force the Vodacom Bulls to shelve their ambitious new approach. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Bulls will host the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday. ‘It’s a massive game in the context of our season,’ De Jager, the new skipper, told SARugbymag.co.za.
The Bulls have a lot to prove. While there’s been a lot of talk about their attacking progress over the past 12 months, there’s no getting away from the fact that they finished stone last in the South African conference last season.
Yes, the Bulls intend to develop their game in 2019. Results, however, must be a priority.
The Bulls cut the Hurricanes to shreds in the opening game of the 2018 Super Rugby tournament. They failed to back up that performance in subsequent fixtures, though, and after losing four of their first five fixtures, they were well and truly out of it as far as the playoff race was concerned.
Their away form has been a particular concern. In 2017, the Bulls lost five of their first six fixtures – all of those away from home – and never recovered.
De Jager believes that another poor start in 2019 will force the Bulls to shelve their plans to evolve and focus solely on results.
‘We’ve placed a big emphasis on the first eight matches before the [second] bye,’ the Bulls captain said. ‘We haven’t started well in previous seasons and that has put us under pressure during the latter stages of the competition.
‘While we beat the Hurricanes in the opener last year, we lost a few thereafter and ended up playing catchup. If we start well this year, we will have more of an opportunity to follow our processes and develop our game.
‘That is the only way we are going to improve as a franchise, to try new things. If we start poorly, we’ll be forced to put our plans to build our game on the back burner and start worrying solely about results.’
The Stormers impressed when the two teams met in a pre-season fixture at Cape Town Stadium eight days ago. And yet, with the number of off-field issues plaguing Western Province rugby at present, one wouldn’t expect the Stormers side that travels to Loftus to be at its best.
The Bulls may be hard-pressed to win their next game against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, though. All four of the South African franchises, as well as the Springboks, lost in Argentina last year. The Bulls have never won in the Argentinian capital.
It won’t get any easier when the Bulls play the Lions at Ellis Park thereafter. They’ll face the Sharks at Loftus before their first bye.
The next series of matches – before their second bye – sees them facing the Chiefs, Sharks, Jaguares and Reds. All of these games will take place in South Africa.
The Bulls will travel to Australasia in late May to face the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues and Highlanders. They haven’t won a match in that part of the world since 2016.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) February 11, 2019
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