Bulls in need of a left-field call
OPINION: Jan de Koning delves into the problems that have bedevilled the Bulls this season - resulting in back-to-back defeats.
The Bulls are enduring a liberal serving of criticism, which could soon turn into an avalanche if their results don't improve dramatically.
Many teams suffer back-to-back defeats and come back to finish in the running for the play-offs.
In fact the Crusaders were once the epitome of a slow-starting team. In 1998 they lost three of their first four fixtures, but bounced back to not only finish second on the standings, but also win the competition.
The problem with the Bulls, in their current guise, is they appear to lack the key ingredient to turn things around - a spine that can fire up the team.
And it is in two pivotal positions - flyhalf and scrumhalf - where the Bulls appear to be in need of a shakeup - a left-field call if you wish.
Now, I am not suggesting you throw out the baby with the bath water.
However, as talented as they are, Louis Fouché and Francois Hougaard have struggled this season.
And they have the same problem at the core of their lack of form - major surgery, ankle in the case of Hougaard and knee for Fouché, that saw them spent the entire second half of 2013 on the sidelines.
So, do you replace both till they regain form? Do the Bulls have adequate replacements?
Let's start at flyhalf and look at Fouché's clunkers this season.
His goal-kicking and touchfinders have been well below what he has produced in the past. He appears to lack the rhythm and calmness that is required from a Super Rugby flyhalf.
It has to be asked: Has he fully recovered from the knee ligament damage he suffered in the encounter with the Southern Kings in Pretoria in June last year?
The fact is, the one aspect that can make him special is not functioning - he is missing easy kicks at goal and tactical kicks are going directly into touch.
There is no doubt he has potential, given the promise he showed during the 2011 Currie Cup season and the form he showed when he started against the Reds last year.
However, maybe it is time for the Bulls to rethink the situation and bring in some experience. Perhaps Fouché can return to the Vodacom Cup competition and regain his confidence.
The Bulls have in their ranks three quality flyhalves - Fouché, Handré Pollard and Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
If Fouché is in need of some time in a less pressurised competition, then it leaves Pollard and Potgieter.
Is Pollard ready to start? We won't know unless he gets a chance.
But my call will be to bring in Potgieter, a veteran of several season of Super Rugby - including two stints with the Bulls and a couple of seasons at the Cheetahs.
The 29-year-old has been playing for Dax in France for the last six months and featured for the Blue Bulls Vodacom Cup team in a curtain raiser in a pre-season outing in Polokwane.
Although he has not made any of the Bulls' matchday squads for the first two rounds of Super Rugby, the situation may just call for his expertise.
His experience of the French ProD2 competition, where he played for Dax till January, will mean he is battle-hardened.
If the Bulls do get brave and go for such a left-field call, it might be wise to not change scrumhalf as well.
My reasoning for that would be that Hougaard - who by his own admission has struggled to come back from last year's knee surgery - has at least shown some improvement from Week One to Week Two.
The Bulls' field-position game requires a bit more accuracy from his kicking game, but he was much better against the Cheetahs than the previous week against the Sharks.
Piet van Zyl's quick-passing and sniping behind rucks do bring some much needed variation.
However, if Hougaard can bring a bit more variation to his game, then perhaps there is no need to change both flyhalf and scrumhalf.
No doubt Van Zyl must be given some opportunities, but perhaps Hougaard should get another run to see if his upwards curve continues.
The Bulls' pack can lay a solid platform and is adequately equipped to deal with most teams in Super Rugby.
If their halfbacks can begin to dictate terms, then perhaps they will regain the form that made them thee-time champions - in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
But, as stated, it will require some brave selection changes.
By Jan de Koning