THE Bulls may still be licking their wounds after their defeat at the hands of the Blues on Friday, but were at least buoyed by the news that Rudy Paige’s injury is not serious.
The team started their preparation for their second game of the tour — one which again becomes a must-win — with the news that Paige returned to training and completed yesterday’s session without hindrance.
There were also no other injuries to talk about, with the medical staff the only ones smiling after a poor start to the tour.
Paige’s knee worries were only a bruise it seems, and his return will be a boost to the side who are thin on halfback resources, as they continue to use Francois Hougaard on the wing where he has been effective this year.
Still the bigger concern was the Bulls’ own performance against the Blues, as they were sucked into a one-dimensional approach, squandered a lot of ball and didn’t seem to learn the lesson that their rolling maul wasn’t getting the rewards from a referee who allowed players to swim up the sides.
The bigger picture is a massive worry because although the Bulls did take a losing bonus point to keep themselves ahead of the Stormers on the log, their task is even more difficult in the coming weeks.
The Chiefs were stung by the loss to the Hurricanes this past weekend, with a disallowed try being a massive talking point in New Zealand and if they want to make the playoffs, the home side will be gunning for a big win in Rotorua this Friday.
All that places the pressure firmly back on the Bulls, who will have to be at their best if they are to salvage points from the fixture.
There is no doubt the Bulls have placed themselves in this position, and the fact they lost their eighth straight game overseas does not make their chances any easier.
A loss would see their chances of keeping pace with the Stormers — who are playing at home — so much more difficult, especially with tricky encounters against the Brumbies and Rebels waiting for them.
Coach Frans Ludeke has already hinted that Bok hooker Adriaan Strauss will be rested this week, meaning Callie Visagie should start the match in his place.
But the reality is that they will need more than simply a few personnel changes if they are to take on the Chiefs at an expansive game.
While the early dominance against the Blues was good, there are a lot of questions left to be answered by the Bulls at the way they abandoned the attacking approach and concentrated solely on trying to break down the Blues up front. They were harassed and it is true the home side came away with some 50-50 calls, but the Bulls’ accuracy was poor and their inability to shift to a wider attack when it mattered cost them.
On defence, every time they scored they committed errors, allowing the Blues to get easy points despite being pinned in their own half for much of the match and despite their dominance they struggled to turn it into points.
There are hard lessons that need to be learnt from the Auckland loss — none more so than for player-coach Victor Matfield who is in charge of the “shape” of the attack.
The more the Bulls can control their own destiny and react better to what is in front of them on the field, the better chance they will have against a dangerous side like the Chiefs.
But if they are to be stubborn and single-minded, they will be predictable and easy to stop. The Bulls’ biggest downfall over the past few years continues to be that they have no plan B.
And if that is the case against the Chiefs, they may hand the Stormers the conference title on a platter.