Bulls to miss Cup semis again?
Blue Bulls coach Pine Pienaar (File)
Cape Town - The Blue Bulls, traditionally one of the powerhouse outfits of the Currie Cup, are flirting dangerously with the rare scenario of failure to qualify for the semi-finals of the domestic competition for a second successive season.
They ended fifth last season, just out of the playoffs zone, when the tournament still comprised eight teams, and in this leaner, six-team year face the possibility of being the most significant Test union franchise to fail to make the cut again.
After completion of six of 10 weekends in the 2012 round-robin phase, the Bulls lie bottom of the standings, the fighting talk of coach Pine Pienaar and captain Dewald Potgieter ahead of the trip to giant-killing Griquas in Kimberley having failed to be matched by a rousing performance on the bare, rock-hard surface there.
The Bulls worryingly conceded another six tries in an unexpectedly clear-cut 49-34 reverse, which seems to be their Achilles heel at present as they slipped to a third loss on the trot.
Admittedly it has been a ding-dong tournament for most teams thus far, with room still for plenty of changes to the key top four berths before the initial phase winds up on the weekend starting October 12.
But suddenly memories of the vibrant 42-31 triumph over the Sharks at Loftus seem very distant after a 42-6 thrashing by arch-rivals Western Province at Newlands, and also home defeat to Highveld neighbours the Lions before the latest hiccup in Kimberley.
The Bulls have only nine points (two wins) from six matches and have plenty to do if they wish to make up enough ground to crack the semis.
Minor consolation for them this weekend is that they tackle, at Loftus, a Cheetahs side also a little dishevelled from three defeats in a row and only two points ahead of them in fifth place.
An incentive for both teams in this relatively unlikely “wooden spoon” meeting is that Pote Human’s rugged, spirited Griquas charges, presently occupying fourth place, have perhaps the toughest run-in programme of the lot - three of their four remaining games are away from their intimidating platteland headquarters.
All the other teams have at least two home fixtures still in the bank, and third-placed WP are best placed in that respect with three of their four run-in obligations in the shadow of Table Mountain.
But the Bulls’ current form - or rather lack of it - will be a worry for the Bulls hierarchy and their hard-core supporters, with pressure sure to be mounting, whether it is admitted from the boardroom or not, on Pienaar and his assistants to stabilise the ship.
Say what you like about the absence of many senior players on international duty, and a catalogue of injuries as well (the fate also of most big rival teams, mind), the Pretoria side pride themselves on being a modern talent factory and the Currie Cup is still a fair enough indicator of depth for the now significantly more important and expanded Super Rugby.
Even the staunchest of their fans are likely to be thinking: we ought to be faring better.
The four games left for the Bulls to turn their campaign around are: Cheetahs (h), Sharks (a), WP (h) and Lions (a).
The Bulls last won the Currie Cup in 2009, when their ranks still included a truck-load of seasoned Springboks including Victor Matfield
, Bakkies Botha
, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana
(now WP), Gurthro Steenkamp and Wynand Olivier
Although their 2012 Super Rugby season was solid enough, are they suffering something of a delayed reaction to so many departures at once at the end of last season?This weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all Saturday):
Western Province v Griquas, 15:00; Blue Bulls v Cheetahs, 17:05; Lions v Sharks, 19:10.