Super Rugby preview: Bulls

    2016-02-23 13:00

    Lloyd Burnard - Sport24

    Cape Town - A new coach, a new brand of rugby and a fan base that wants the glory years at Loftus restored. That is what awaits the Bulls this season. 

    They avoid all of the New Zealand teams, but they are up against the Stormers and Cheetahs in their conference and will have to be vastly improved if they are to manufacture a path through to the quarter-finals. 

    2015 was a disappointing season for the Bulls as the limped to third in the South African conference and ninth overall, and with the new format they face tough trips away to the Brumbies, Waratahs and Jaguares. 

    Nollis Marais takes charge of the Super Rugby side for the first time after having guiding them (the Blue Bulls) to an uninspiring semi-final loss to Western Province in last year's Currie Cup.

    Coach: Nollis Marais

    Captain: Adriaan Strauss

    Last season: 3rd in SA conference, 9th overall

    Grouped with: Stormers, Cheetahs, Sunwolves

    Potential strengths: Handre Pollard was set to be the major shining light at Loftus this season, but with a knee injury ruling him out for the year, the Bulls will need to look elsewhere. One of the most exciting prospects at Loftus in 2016, particularly given the Bulls' wishes to be more expansive, is the potential pairing of Burger Odendaal and Jesse Kriel in midfield. It is also a big season for scrumhalf Rudy Paige as he looks to make the Springbok No 9 jersey his own.

    Potential weaknesses: The experience that has left in the form of Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe and Pierre Spies is possibly most concerning for Bulls supporters. Their lineout now comes under the spotlight, though the good news there is that the services of Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss have been retained. The Bulls are not fancied by many this season, and some new leaders will need to emerge from their pack if they are to upset the odds.

    Players to watch: Strauss will be key in the tight-five. In the backline, the Bulls boast the much-hyped Kriel. 

    Realistic aim: Making the quarter-finals will be a success for the Bulls.

    Players in: Thembelani Bholi (Kings), Francois Brummer (Pumas), Nick de Jager (Saracens), Lizo Gqoboka (Kings), Freddy Ngoza (Cheetahs), Luther Obi (Kings), Le Roux Roets (Lions), Etienne Swanepoel (WP).

    Players out: Jacques du Plessis (Montpellier), Louis Fouché (Kings), Francois Hougaard (Sevens), Victor Matfield (Northampton), Akona Ndungane (retired), Pierre Spies (Kinetsu), Flip van der Merwe (Clermont), Nardus van der Walt (Pumas), Hencus van Wyk (Manukata), Jurgen Visser (Kings).

    First fixture: February 27, Stormers (a).

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