Pote Human will need the assistance of a strong support staff in order to successfully tackle a Herculean turnaround task at the Bulls, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Bulls fans are a frustrated bunch. Recollections of the team’s Super Rugby success in 2007, 2009 and 2010 are now nothing much more than a distant memory.
After consistent underperformance in more recent years, the Bulls launched a publicised ‘turnaround’ plan, and last year celebrated the coup of John Mitchell to spearhead this process.
The former All Blacks coach duly arrived with visions of grandeur. He spoke of whipping the players into shape. Those who weren’t up to the task were quickly cast aside.
It appeared that the Bulls were in store for a much-needed shake-up, with a number of players raving about Mitchell’s fresh take on proceedings. Yet it was always going to be an approach that could only fully come to fruition if he stuck around.
Unfortunately for the Bulls hopefuls, England came knocking, and Mitchell didn’t really hesitate to bid Loftus farewell. A process of finding Mitchell’s successor got under way, but then it all got a little bit awkward.
For one, former Bulls legend Fourie du Preez quickly distanced himself from any involvement: ‘The current structures at the Bulls make success highly unlikely,’ he commented. ‘Over the past seven years, poor decision-making has seen the Bulls stagnate from one of the best teams to an average side, and no one has taken responsibility for that decline. I can’t work like that.’
And so it went. Eventually, the Bulls proceeded to name a wider training squad on 12 November. The only issue was that a head coach still hadn’t been appointed.
More recently, though, Bulls fans generally perked up when Victor Matfield was touted as the candidate in line to take on the top job. He applied for the gig, had a rethink, and at the 11th hour ruled himself out of contention – citing the insecurity of a high-risk coaching job.
All the while, Human has been waiting in the wings. Against all expectations, just last October, he very nearly led the Blue Bulls to a surprise Currie Cup final. There could be no denying that the players responded to Human’s leadership during that domestic campaign.
No frills, no fuss, Human comes across as a coach who cares about his players. He’s also paid his dues as a coach – having spent five years with Shimlas before moving into the Bulls’ ranks. In between, he’s banked a two-year stint in Japan and a short spell with Griquas.
Human may not be a ‘fashionable’ big-name appointment for the Bulls, but there can be no denying that he has paid his dues as a coach. The consideration that he was nearly leapfrogged by a candidate with virtually no high-level coaching experience would hardly have made much actual sense.
Yet what Human does need is help from some friends. Make no mistake, the coaching gig has begun to resemble a poisoned chalice.
In recent times, there have been plenty of accusations levelled around mismanagement and ill-judged decisions concerning some of the boardroom staff, with serious questions being raised of both the recruitment and release of certain players.
The junior structures are on rocky ground, and it’s here that newly-appointed director of rugby Alan Zondagh has said he will be looking to overhaul the Bulls’ player development and talent identification system.
That’s a good start, but Human will also need the support of a strong coaching group if he is to achieve results in the short term. In this regard, it can only be seen as a good thing that Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has offered his assistance for the pre-season and leading into Super Rugby.
In the weeks to come, the Bulls have said they will also confirm Human’s support staff and assistants. One has to hope that Human is empowered to surround himself with coaches of his choice, and who will add high-quality expertise.
The fact remains that the compensation received from England to buy out Mitchell’s contract has left them with some money to play with. Of all the South African franchises, they have recruited most industriously, landing big fish such as Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Brits.
The Bulls can also look forward to a largely favourable fixtures schedule that will see them play five of their first eight matches at home, while banking two byes relatively early on.
Human can’t be expected to work miracles overnight at a Bulls franchise that is in a state of rebuilding. However, with strong support structures around him, the experienced coach could just surprise a few of the Loftus faithful who have already begun to write off the former three-time champs as a lost cause.
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