Can Bulls cope with Kiwi confines?

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 14:31

SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW 2018 - TEAM BY TEAM: In the fourth instalment of our 15-part build-up to the season we look at the Bulls. It will be followed by the last of the teams in the South African conference - then the other conferences.

John Mitchell ran foul of players and officials when he was the All Black coach. There was a repeat of that at the Western Force in Perth and again with the Lions in Johannesburg.

However, his often rough-hewn and unguarded approach may just be what the Bulls need to draw them out of the mire of mediocrity they have slumped into since their last Super Rugby title in 2010.

Players at the Pretoria-based franchise have always performed best under a disciplinarian.

Despite the constraints of his measured approach, Mitchell is trying to bring a more expansive game to the Bulls.

There was a hint of change for the Bulls during the Currie Cup last year, even though some players still reverted to type under pressure.

However, if the mostly young squad embraces Mitchell's way of thinking about the game and can deal with his sometimes explosive personality, they will be a real threat and certainly play-off prospects.

The challenge is for Mitchell to keep a lid on the free-spirited youngsters in his squad - an issue which reared its head at times in the Currie Cup.

Mitchell, in typical Kiwi fashion, played down expectations over the three-time champions' prospects.

"I don't want to make any promises on how the team will perform this year, we will be solely focussed on the process," Mitchell said.

"It's about marginal gains for us, stacking good stuff on good stuff daily as we continue to ensure excellence.

"It's not about the end, but rather the daily effort combined at the end.

"Our purpose is to fill Loftus and put smiles on people's faces.  We will be working very hard to achieve that."

They might just be a touch thin in the halfback positions - especially if injury-prone Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard drops out again.

Francois Brummer and Marnitz Boshoff can do the job, but they are not the game-breakers you require at Super Rugby level.

Despite their obvious talent, the scrumhalf collection - Ivan van Zyl, Andre Warner and Embrose Papier - lack the experience at this level.

They will be exciting, but the Bulls may lose a few crucial games.

2018 Predictions
South African Conference Placing: Fourth
Player of the Year: Rudolph Snyman
Rookie of the Year:  Embrose Papier
Super Rugby Placing: Ninth

Squad Movements

In: Tim Agaba (SA Sevens), Marnitz Boshoff (Connacht), Thembelani Boli (Kings), Dayan van der Westhuizen (Kings), Frans van Wyk (Stormers), Jano Venter (Lions).

Out: Jacobie Adriaanse (Lions), Arno Botha (London Irish), Renaldo Bothma (Harlequins), Martin Dryer (Kings), Kefentse Mahlo (released), Sibahle Maxwane (released), Luther Obi (Cheetahs), Marnus Schoeman (Pumas), Tian Schoeman (Bordeaux), Jan Serfontein (Montpellier), Piet van Zyl (London Irish).

Squad:

Backs: Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews, Travis Ismaiel, Jamba Ulengo, Jade Stighling, Divan Rossouw, Burger Odendaal, JT Jackson, Francois Brummer, Jesse Kriel, Johnny Kotze, Handre Pollard, Marnitz Boshoff, Manie Libbok, Ivan van Zyl, Andre Warner, Embrose Papier.

Forwards: Roelof Smit, Ruan Steenkamp, Hendre Stassen, Hanro Liebenberg, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba, Jason Jenkins, Ruben van Heerden, Rudolph Snyman, Lodewyk de Jager, Aston Fortuin, Pierre Schoeman, Conraad van Vuuren, Frans van Wyk, Matthys Basson, Lizo Gqoboka, Trevor Nyakane, Jaco Visagie, Adriaan Strauss, Edgar Marutlulle.

History

Best finish: Champions in 2007, 2009 and 2010

Worst finish: Fifteenth in 2017

By Jan de Koning
@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Don't miss the last team in the South African conference, the Jaguares, as well as the New Zealand and Australian conferences in the coming weeks.

Other previews:
* Lions
* Stormers
* Sharks

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Fri, 25 May 2018
Crusaders v Hurricanes 07h35 Christchurch
Rebels v Sunwolves 09h45 Melbourne
Jaguares v Sharks 19h40 Estadio Jose Amalfitani
Sat, 26 May 2018
Chiefs v Waratahs 07h35 Hamilton
Reds v Highlanders 09h45 Suncorp Stadium
Bulls v Brumbies 13h05 Loftus Versfeld
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens 14h00 London
Stormers v Lions 15h15 Newlands
Leinster v Scarlets 17h00 Dublin
SUPER RUGBY
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Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Waratahs 11 6 1 4 31
Rebels 11 5 0 6 25
Reds 11 4 0 7 18
Brumbies 11 3 0 8 16
Sunwolves 11 0 9 10
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Crusaders 12 10 0 2 46
Hurricanes 11 10 0 1 45
Highlanders 11 7 0 4 32
Chiefs 11 7 0 4 32
Blues 12 3 0 9 17
Pool SA
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 13 7 0 6 36
Jaguares 12 7 0 5 29
Sharks 12 5 1 6 28
Bulls 12 5 0 7 24
Stormers 13 5 0 8 23