Brenden Nel - SuperSport
The defiance in their eyes may still save them, but even the Bulls management must realise by now they are at a tipping point this season.
The three-time champions returned home on Monday from a rough tour – where they suffered a whitewash against the Crusaders, were bamboozled by the Reds and pressed the self-destruct button against the Force to return home with their tails between their legs.
The opening victory over the Hurricanes was the only reward the defending champions could take for their troubles, and now face the possibility of missing out on the enlarged playoffs altogether.
Whichever way the Bulls look at it, things don’t look good for them. They languish in eighth position on the overall log, six points behind the Waratahs and a massive 12 points behind the Sharks in third place in the South African conference.
Captain Victor Matfield and his fellow senior players are on record that to win this competition you need a home draw in the playoff rounds and well, even the playoff rounds seem a distant prospect for the defending champions.
It is a tough pill to swallow at Loftus Versfeld. For weeks we have heard the same mantra from coach Frans Ludeke and the management. There is no need to panic, they said, and as long as the Bulls adjust the small things they would be back in the competition.
But the harsh reality now is – and even Ludeke can’t be as blind not to see this – that they are far off the pace of the competition. To have a bad tour is one thing, but to continue with your head in the sand is another.
The Bulls have always been predictable, but their game plan has lacked accuracy, lacked a plan B and lacked the dominance up front they have always enjoyed. This unfortunately is the truth of the matter. The Bulls set-piece has hardly been the physical dominating factor it was previously, with their runners struggling to get over the gain line.
Let's be honest, and put provincialism aside here, if 60 per cent of the Springbok team look hopeless overnight, then something deeper has to be wrong. The bigger picture here may be a lot more disturbing, especially with a World Cup defence on the horizon.
The Bulls will put their hopes on a home run like they have done before, but when this includes visits to Loftus for the Sharks, Cheetahs, Chiefs, Rebels and away trips to Durban and Cape Town, it does not look that easy.
In fact, while other teams have been building momentum, the Bulls will be playing out of desperation. A fabulous motivator, but to play that way for eight weeks may be asking a little too much...