Tough Super Rugby draw excites Bulls
REACTION: Blue Bulls head coach Nollis Marais believes that his team will have to be at their very best if they are to challenge for Super Rugby honours in 2017.
The Bulls played all the South African and Australian teams in this year's Super Rugby tournament, which means that due to the format of the competition, they have been presented with the challenge of playing all five teams from New Zealand as well as their cross-rivals from South Africa next year.
The Bulls will travel to Cape Town at the end of February, where they will face the Stormers in their opening game of the 2017 edition before they continue their travels with a trip to Bloemfontein to take on the Cheetahs.
The Bulls have a bye in Round Three and then they host the Sunwolves in Pretoria. They then depart for their three-week tour to New Zealand and Japan.
Marais joked that Stormers' coach Robbie Fleck must know someone involved in the Super Rugby structures, after the two teams were drawn to play each other on the opening weekend of Super Rugby action for the second year in succession.
"I think Robbie Fleck knows someone in high places because again we are starting away with the Stormers [Saturday, February 25] and then the next week the Cheetahs away and then a bye," said Marais.
Marais added that it is important for the Bulls to get the right results in their opening matches so that they are able to build momentum into the season.
"If we can get through those two games away [Stormers and Cheetahs] and get some results, you get the Sunwolves next and then obviously travel.
"Certain games can go your way and you make sure that you get some results out of the seven matches.
"It's a difficult draw, but hopefully we can get some results at the beginning, which will go our way and then be in it when it comes to June and July.
"But still competing in your conference is what keeps things interesting - you still fighting with the Stormers and Cheetahs to get a play-off," explained Marais.
Marais further added that the Loftus faithful will be in for some spectacular rugby with some of New Zealand’s best players visiting Pretoria.
"You get some of the big games here [Loftus Versfeld] as well, and it's also good for our supporters to see some top sides playing here again. They are looking forward to seeing the New Zealand sides here," said Marais.
The Bulls opened this year’s Super Rugby tournament with a 9-33 defeat to the Stormers in Cape Town. However, the Bulls reversed that earlier result with a 17-13 victory over the Cape side in a Super Rugby match back in May.
The Bulls know how valuable every point will be in next year's Super Rugby tournament after missing out on the play-offs by a single point earlier in the season.
The Bulls finished this year's Super Rugby competition in ninth place on the combined table, with 42 points from 15 matches played, which included nine wins, five defeats and one draw.
The Sharks qualified for the quarterfinals after finishing in eighth place on the combined table, with 43 points.
* For the 2017 schedule CLICK HERE!
By Josh Isaacson