Nollis Marais has to accept ultimate accountability for the Bulls’ season of horror, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
At a time when South African rugby is in a state of turmoil, there is simply no room for sentimentality or second chances. There has to be culpability and clear and decisive action.
Indeed, it is the cut-throat nature of sport that the leader at the helm has to be held responsible when the men under his direction repeatedly perform as if they are lost in the dark.
Of course, I am referring to a Bulls team that has drifted down s**t creek without a paddle this season, while the results have been almost too unbearable to watch. In fact, that’s almost a literal point when one considers just how measly the crowds have been at the Bulls' home ground this season, with the Loftus faithful seeming to have lost their faith during a campaign that hit new lows on Saturday.
As it was, just 13,000 fans turned up at Loftus to watch the Bulls take on the Crusaders, but many were heading for the exits after an opening half that saw the hosts concede five tries and 31 points. After 50 minutes, they had conceded 50 points, and by full-time the Pretoria-based side had suffered their biggest home defeat in Super Rugby.
When one considers that the once mighty Bulls clinched three Super Rugby titles between 2007 and 2010, the fact they have gone from heroes to zeros in such a short space of time has made it all the more difficult to take.
For all intents and purposes, Saturday’s thrashing at the hands of the Crusaders was a case of reaching a point where one has to concede that enough is enough. The Bulls have now lost six games out of nine, including an embarrassing defeat to the unheralded Sunwolves, but it was their inability to compete at the so-called Loftus fortress that was just as shocking.
One has to sit up and take notice when two former Loftus legends humbly acknowledge that something has to be done.
‘In the real world someone would get fired,’ Naas Botha commented in the SuperSport studios after the game. ‘I say with sadness that the Bulls looked like a team that had not been coached.’
Former captain Victor Matfield was also at a loss. ‘The Bulls played without a plan,’ he commented. ‘What I want to know is how do they intend to win matches?’
This remains the million-dollar question. Quite simply, when last has a Bulls pack been punished so brutally at home (they lost four scrums and were penalised in another four)? But they were just as abject all-round, with their attack, defence and kicking stats making for woeful reading.
Yes, the players have to also accept some responsibility for the woeful performances this season, but when there is such a patent failure to implement any semblance of a game plan, it is the coach who has to account for this disconnect between what is conducted in training and then delivered on match-day.
To his credit, Marais has moved to accept full responsibility for the team’s failures, and admitted he would be willing to accept the board’s decision if they agreed he was no longer up to the job. But he also expressed his determination to keep on fighting. As it is, there were talks over the weekend of an ‘emergency meeting’ or at least urgent discussions taking place to address the problems at hand, and the future of the coaching staff.
Now, Marais is not the only one at fault. The quality and contributions of his assistants has to come under the microscope, while the systems and structures at the once proud union must be closely scrutinised.
Just recently, certain player recruitments seem to suggest the Bulls have also begun to move away from the policy advocated by former coach Heyneke Meyer at the turn of the century, and which saw them focus on procuring a large portion of the top junior players in the country.
At the end of the day, the Bulls’ struggles should also be seen as a national concern. The Boks and SA Rugby need this once-powerful franchise to continue developing players and competing for titles.
Ultimately, in order for the Bulls to return to its former glory, there simply has to be change. Marais may well learn from his mistakes, but there have been no clear indications during his tenure that he has the necessary experience or tactical nous to lead the Bulls in a new direction.
It now remains to be seen whether the Bulls' board is willing to make difficult decisions. Would they be bold enough to approach an ‘outsider’, such as former All Blacks coach John Mitchell to come in and take charge, while perhaps allowing Marais to gain further experience in the Currie Cup?
The Bulls have fallen so far that there will be no quick-fix. But it will serve no purpose to allow the former three-time champs to continue this painful free-fall from grace. There can simply be no more excuses.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images