The supporter in me has always loved the Bulls as a rugby team. The reporter in me backs the Lions to win - and win comfortably in Pretoria in a derby clash that has extra spice because it’s the first time new Bulls coach John Mitchell will take on his former team the Lions.
I was massively encouraged by the Bulls performance against the Hurricanes but very disappointed that less than 10 000 were at the ground to witness the winning result.
The lack of support is understandable because the Bulls have been a shambles for a few years. They lost some of the greatest players produced in the last generation and they also lost world class coaches. They tried to do an in-house job in an international competition and they took a beating.
The previous coach wasn’t good enough and neither were the players he selected.
Mitchell, in one match, did more than this predecessor did in two seasons.
But, as Mitchell cautioned after the win, it’s feet on the ground time for the Bulls. They’ve won one home game and played just one game. It’s a long season and they’re a team into their second match with a new coach.
They’re up against a team that for the past two seasons made successive finals and with a head coach (in Swys de Bruin) who in that time was the assistant coach and in charge of the backs.
De Bruin’s promotion to head honcho has immediately produced impressive results. The Lions were a lot more polished and cohesive in the opening win against the Sharks than I thought would be the case.
I feared that De Bruin’s love for all-out attack could compromise the strength of the Lions set piece, but it hasn’t. There has been no letting up of focus in the Lions approach to the scrum.
There remains investment in the value of the set piece and how influential it is to have a set piece that can destroy the opposition.
The Bulls, following the win against the Hurricanes, will also have to deal with the new-found confidence of their support base, whose judgement could be clouded with a lack of realism this week and also a distaste of the opposition, given the derby factor.
It is brilliant for the competition that the Bulls are again being spoken of as a winning combination and it also adds to one’s appetite to want to watch the game. Hopefully, we’ll see a crowd of 30 000 in Pretoria on Saturday.
I am expecting a very entertaining game, with both teams positive in their approach. The return fixture at Ellis Park will be closer than what we’ll see on Saturday. The Bulls will be stronger the longer Mitchell coaches them. They aren’t strong enough to threaten what is a very settled Lions unit.
I was furious when watching the Stormers throw it away against the Waratahs. They played some of the most stupid rugby when, leading 24-21 and with a one man playing advantage, they lost focus and discipline.
The last two minutes were also among the most disastrous. The set piece failed in the scrum and lineout, they turned over possession and they gift wrapped four league points and handed it to the Waratahs.
The leadership of the Stormers in those crucial moments was absent and senior players also let the team down.
Championships are not won by teams who play the big moments like the Stormers did in Sydney. They’ll be more competitive in New Zealand but no more victorious than was the case in Australia.
As for the Sharks, every time I shower them with praise they p**s me off and lose. So I’ll be conservative in any expectation but liberal enough to say the Waratahs aren’t a good enough team to win in Durban.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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