Former Sharks director of rugby Brendan Venter says injuries and Bok absentees are to blame for the Blue Bulls' Currie Cup struggles. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The Bulls currently find themselves in sixth place on the Currie Cup log following a tepid display against the Sharks at Loftus this past weekend. They are at risk of failing to make the semi-finals for the second consecutive year, something which hasn't happened since they flirted with the lower divisions in the early 2000s.
Last year's failure was chalked up to a mass exodus of players, where they were forced to field an inexperienced team. A year down the line, the Bulls are still suffering teething problems.
While the results are a slight improvement on last year's showing (the Bulls managed just three wins in 10 outings during the 2013 Currie Cup), they remain some way off a title challenge. Brendan Venter thinks they aren't as far off as some would have you believe.
'The Bulls are in the midst of a building cycle,' Venter told SARugbymag.co.za. 'Unfortunately their progress has been disrupted by injuries this year. They've been without Pierre Spies and Arno Botha the whole season, while Flip van der Merwe was also a big loss.'
'The Springbok team to face Australia this weekend is likely to have three inside backs from the Bulls, so they've got the quality, it's just not with them at this moment in time. They'll be a lot better during Super Rugby [in 2015].'
Venter admits that they've got little chance of making the Currie Cup semi-finals this year, as they must win their three remaining matches to progress.
One criticism levelled at the Bulls during the Currie Cup campaign has been their lack of innovation on attack. The Bulls unsurprisingly lead the statistics in kicks from hand, while they've managed just 14 tries from their seven matches, a league low.
'People like to criticise Frans [Ludeke]'s style of play, but it's worked for them in the past and it can work for them again. It's not like the game has changed.
'Their game plan is foolproof when executed with intensity and accuracy. They showed that against the Lions a couple of weeks back.'
The Bulls failed to cross the whitewash against the Sharks at the weekend, and didn't exert any continued pressure on the opposition defence.
One notable aspect of their approach was their willingness to seek out contact, rather than look to draw in opposition defenders before offloading. Only the Pumas have made less offloads than the Bulls in contact this season.
Venter, however, doesn't believe that these skills can be coached, but are rather a result of a skillful player dominating the contact area, allowing for the offload to be made.
'Being able to offload in the tackle is a direct consequence of winning the collision. The problem comes in when you don't win those collisions, which the Bulls aren't doing at the moment.
'Some of it has to do with the players that they have out [either through injury or with the Boks], and the rest is just a lack of confidence.'
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images