• Super Rugby preview: Bulls

    The Vodacom Bulls will still be in a transition phase in 2015 but should improve on last year's campaign.

    The 2014 season was always going to be a testing one for the Bulls and it was reflected in their performances against top sides and their final log placing. They beat the Brumbies and Sharks – who both went on to contest a semi-final – but couldn’t string together a run of consistent victories.

    The rebuilding project after two mass exoduses – in late 2011 and 2013 – is ongoing, but their squad will get an injection of quality and experience with the arrival of Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Lappies Labuschagne, as well as the return to fitness of Pierre Spies and gifted youngster Arno Botha. Add these players to a squad boasting the likes of Victor Matfield, Handré Pollard and Francois Hougaard, and it has the look of a kingmaker. It will be a while yet before they mount a challenge to the throne themselves.  

    The Bulls are still missing a top-quality scrumhalf to control the pace and tempo of matches and one with a strong tactical-kicking game, a skill critical to the Bulls’ game plan working properly. Hougaard thrives when the game is open, but his struggles when it gets tighter are well documented.

    Their back division won’t strike fear into Super Rugby’s better sides. Rookies like Jesse Kriel and Ulrich Beyers will grow over the course of the campaign and be better equipped to influence affairs in 2016. For now, the Bulls’ challenge will come from their forwards, who will be good enough to grind out a couple of wins along the way.

    FORWARD TO WATCH
    Adriaan Strauss’s homecoming (he started his professional career at the Bulls) will improve the side significantly. He has improved year-on-year and is now among the best hookers in the game, equally adept at close quarters combat as he is at ranging around the field in an open game. Technically, there is not a skill he lacks as a hooker, while his leadership ability and experience completes a valuable package. Strauss will also have the strong incentive of holding on to his starting berth with the Springboks through consistently good performances. This, in a World Cup year, is a massive motivator and the Bulls are set to be the beneficiaries.

    BACK TO WATCH
    The 2015 Super Rugby campaign will be Handré Pollard’s first as the Bulls’ premier flyhalf and after his breakthrough Test season, much will be expected of the 20-year-old. Pollard has consistently expressed his appreciation to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer for giving him the freedom to play his natural game, which, he says, is to take the ball to the gainline or act as a creative force for those around him. The Bulls’ tactics don’t allow for the fullness of that expression but he has to adapt if he wants to hold on to the iconic No 10 shirt.

    PLAYERS IN
    Lappies Labuschagne (Cheetahs)
    Trevor Nyakane (Cheetahs)
    Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs)
    Jamba Ulengo (Blitzboks)

    PLAYERS OUT
    Ulrich Beyers (Bordeaux)
    Clayton Blommetjies (Cheetahs)
    David Bulbring (EP Kings)
    Louis Fouché (Ricoh, Japan)
    Luan Jacobs (Lions)
    Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Lions)
    ​Tony Jantjies (Kings)
    Sampie Mastriet (Lions)
    Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers)
    Waylon Murray (Sharks)
    Jono Ross (Stade Français, France)
    Paul Willemse (Grenoble, France)

    NUMBERS THAT MATTER
    20 – The number of lineouts the Bulls won in 2014 Super Rugby (Rank 4)
    31 – The number of lineouts they stole (Rank 1)
    28 – The number of tries the Bulls scored, at an average of 1.7 per match (Rank 15)
    55 – The number of clean breaks they made (Rank 15)
    203 – The number of defenders they beat (Rank 15)
    81 – The number of offloads they made (Rank 15)
    1,457 – The number of passes they completed (Rank 15)
    4 – The number of yellow cards they received (Rank 15)
    144 – The number of points Bulls top-scorer Jacques-Louis Potgieter achieved in 14 Super Rugby matches (Rank 7)
    Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App

    FAST FACT
    Veteran lock Victor Matfield will be the oldest player in the 2015 Super Rugby tournament (he turns 38 on 11 May).

    2015 FIXTURES
    14 February vs Stormers (h)
    20 February vs Hurricanes (h)
    28 February vs Sharks (h)
    7 March vs Cheetahs (a)
    13-14 March BYE
    21 March vs Force (h)
    28 March vs Crusaders (h)
    4 April vs Lions (a)
    11 April vs Reds (h)
    18 April vs Sharks (a)
    25 April vs Stormers (a)
    2 May vs Lions (h)
    8-9 May BYE
    15 May vs Blues (a)
    22 May vs Chiefs (a)
    29 May vs Brumbies (a)
    6 June vs Rebels (a)
    13 June vs Cheetahs (h)

    2014 RECORD
    Won: 7 (44%)
    Drew: 1
    Lost: 8

    PREVIOUS LOG FINISHES
    1996 – 3rd (semi-finalists)
    1997 – 8th
    1998 – 11th
    1999 – 12th
    2000 – 11th
    2001 – 12th
    2002 – 12th
    2003 – 6th
    2004 – 6th
    2005 – 3rd (semi-finalists)
    2006 – 4th (semi-finalists)
    2007 – 2nd (champions)
    2008 – 10th
    2009 – 1st (champions)
    2010 – 1st (champions)
    2011 – 7th
    2012 – 5th
    2013 – 2nd (semi-finalists)
    2014 – 9th
    Note: Played as Northern Transvaal in 1996 and 1997
    Super 12 from 1996-2005, Super 14 from 2006-2010, 15-team Super Rugby from 2011

    FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER
    Pierre Spies

    OTHER SA TEAM PREVIEWS
    Cheetahs preview
    Lions preview
    Sharks preview
    Stormers preview

    Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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    Simon Borchardt