The Vodacom Bulls have stagnated and are far from the force they should be. Things need to change and their former scrumhalf Fourie du Preez agrees, writes RYAN VREDE.
I wrote at the start of the season that the Bulls would struggle because of their youthful squad. I didn't expect them to miss out on the play-offs, though, and even less so did I expect them to be as desperately poor as they have been. They've won less than half their matches, lost every tour match this season and generally failed to inspire any confidence.
Their supporters have taken comfort in the fact they aren't as bad as their rivals, the Sharks. They should be questioning why they aren't at least as good as the Lions, who were on the brink of a play-off place despite the huge gulf in financial and personnel resources between the franchises.
The 2013 exodus of senior players undoubtedly hurt them but not to the extent where they should be missing consecutive play-offs. They retained a strong core of senior players and have incredibly gifted young talents, Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel among them.
But there are serious and growing problems. Most concerning is that their game plan is dated. I accept that, if executed precisely, it's hard to counter. However, they haven't executed it nearly well enough to trouble the tournament's better sides (they've beaten just two of the eight sides above them on the log).
Frans Ludeke has done relatively well during his tenure as head coach but he has run his course. The franchise needs a fresh mind in charge and Ludeke needs a new challenge. He's a good coach but even good coaches have a finite lifespan in charge of teams. Ludeke has reached the end of that lifespan.
Speaking to me in a wide-ranging interview last week, former Bulls scrumhalf Fourie du Preez shared his thoughts on the franchise's plight and what needed to change. He had no time for diplomacy.
'Most of the things I’ve said would be the same things I said four years ago and therein lies the problem,' Du Preez told me. 'The 2011 exodus they were prepared for. But in 2013 I think, and this is simply my view, that had more to do with poor management of the situation.
'A lot of damage was done then. They had a team that could win Super Rugby and a lot of those guys left. Since then it seems like there has been a haphazard way of running the franchise. They have the talent and all the facilities to be a top franchise. But there also needs to be a change of mindset from the guys who run the union. They need to have a revolutionary approach but I’m not sure they are capable of it. If that doesn’t change they’ll keep being an average franchise. I’ve shared my views with the people in charge at the union but whether they are going to listen is debatable.'
It must be established that Du Preez was not taking a cheap shot at his former employers. He cares deeply for them and remains invested in their fortunes despite playing in Japan. Indeed, after failing to reach an agreement to play Super Rugby for them this year, he turned down offers from 'one or two other franchises' because of his loyalty to the Bulls.
'I'm a Bulls man. There's still something to be said for loyalty. I couldn't play for another South African franchise,' he explained.
He is, however, extremely frustrated at their inability to progress. At times, he said, it feels like an unwillingness to change. His observation is that the Bulls' leadership continue to believe that success will be a by-product of the repetition of the plan they followed in the buildup to their Super Rugby successes in the late 2000s.
But the game has evolved and demands a more balanced approach tactically. The Bulls have been left behind and will continue to be trapped in a maze of mediocrity if they don't make bold decisions in the coming months.
Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images