Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Bye weekends can be a curse to teams with a bit of momentum, but perhaps the Bulls should be grateful for theirs in the next round of Super Rugby.
The optimistic view about an “off” week for Frans Ludeke’s charges, you see, is that it will refresh them for what shapes up as a pressure-cooker, make-or-break match against the Brumbies at Loftus on Friday, May 23.
That is arguably the trickiest of the Bulls’ four remaining ordinary season games, and they almost certainly have to win it –as they do all the others – to keep their hopes of ending in the top six overall alive.
They have kept their slim playoffs hopes buoyant by winning successive home games against the Cheetahs and Stormers (though a four-try bonus point was elusive each time) and with Loftus the scene once again for their clash with the Aussie conference-leading Brumbies, might have wished to “keep on rolling” in the looming weekend.
Instead the Brumbies will first play the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday night, before shifting to Pretoria for their second tour fixture on the trot in high-altitude conditions.
After the Brumbies, the Bulls tackle the Lions away and Stormers away, before ending back at Loftus against the Rebels – you could argue that all three are potentially easier obstacles than the men from the Australian Capital Territory, who have just seen off the log-leading Sharks.
By my calculation, losing to the Brumbies should mean curtains for the Bulls’ chances of reaching the finals series as a top-six team, leaving as the only other (still long-shot!) method the eclipsing of the Sharks in the domestic conference – the SA leaders are eight points clear and from one game fewer.
The simple reason is that defeat in a fortnight would leave the Bulls needing more points than there would be available ones from remaining matches, if last season’s minimum cut-off of 46 points for qualification is employed as a yardstick.
Even that is a fairly “generous” total to use, given that in 2012 51 was the minimum, and in 2011 – the first year of the current, conference-based format – it was 49.
The Bulls, with only a possible 20 points (four matches) left to play for, need 18 just to get to the 46 qualifying landmark of last season from their present 28 points: that is four wins, with two of them also needing an attached four-try bonus point.
Do the maths and you can see that even succumbing to the Brumbies with a losing bonus point would leave Victor Matfield and company then needing 17 from a possible 15, the old “square peg in a round hole” scenario ... just not achievable.
Their only remaining hope in that event would be a very serious Sharks implosion in their remaining fixtures (in order from here: Crusaders and Blues away, Stormers at home, Cheetahs away and Stormers away) and the Bulls to do enough in the local conference to overhaul them to first spot.
Of course it is impossible to gauge at this juncture exactly what the playoffs-securing points target for 2014 will be.
In the English Premiership soccer landscape, for instance, they used to say 40 points was the magical mark at the wrong end of the table for staving off relegation – yet this season West Brom stayed up with 36.
Bottom line: just keep winning, Bulls!
*If last season’s minimum playoffs-qualifying tally of 46 points (it was really 54, but given the presence then of eight now-redundant bye points per team) is used as the yardstick for reaching the finals series again, this is what most of the remaining challengers will have to do in the remaining weeks:
1 Sharks (36 points from 11 matches thus far): need 10 out of possible 25 left
2 Chiefs (35 points from 11 matches): need 11 out of 25
3 Brumbies (34 points from 11 matches): need 12 out of 25
4 Crusaders (31 points from 10 matches): need 15 out of 30
5 Force (31 points from 10 matches): need 15 out of 30
6 Hurricanes (30 points from 11 matches): need 16 out of 25
7 Highlanders (30 points from 10 matches): need 16 from 30
8 Waratahs (29 points from 10 matches): need 17 from 30
9 Bulls (28 points from 12 matches): need 18 from 20*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing