Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Using history as your not unreasonable yardstick, the odds seem formidably stacked against the Bulls winning their hugely important Super Rugby clash with the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday (11:45 SA time).
The game is a high-stakes one for both sides, not least because it features the presently second – Bulls – and third-lying sides on the overall table, however you may wish to pooh-pooh its confusing “artificiality”.
Although a lot could still change over the remaining weeks of ordinary season, that means that they occupy not only the prime berths in their respective conferences, but the South African outfit (three points to the better) also sit in the space that offers an enticing ticket to a home semi-final.
In common additionally, however, is that both are being run desperately close within their own groups, allowing little further room for losses.
The Bulls are level on points with the increasingly confident, ambitious Jaguares, while the Brumbies feel almost as much heat in their conference from the Rebels, only one point adrift.
So the loser at GIO Stadium could sink several notches by the time the weekend’s full roster has run its course.
Although the Brumbies come off the rejuvenating qualities of a bye – it can cause a mild degree of rustiness, too -- the Bulls will be filled with confidence after their superb performance in beating the Rebels 32-17 in their tour opener.
It would have been a landmark occasion for several of their younger or newer squad members, as the Pretoria-based side had not previously won outside South Africa since 2016.
Interestingly, the Brumbies were the same, follow-up opponents after that victory, a 42-20 grilling of the now jettisoned Force in Perth, helped by a brace of tries to each of Adriaan Strauss and Jan Serfontein.
But the Bulls could not “repeat”: they were soundly beaten 23-6 in Canberra and also lost 31-8 to the Waratahs as their (then all-Aussie) tour quickly enough fizzled out to a one-from-three finish.
This is a four-match roster, also featuring an onward leg in New Zealand (Blues, Highlanders) where, as former Bulls and Springbok icon Victor Matfield reminded on SuperSport’s SuperRugby talk show on Monday “it only gets tougher”.
Especially as Duane Vermeulen will sit out the NZ matches and captain Handre Pollard reportedly at least one of them, the visitors will badly wish to retain a winning habit on Friday.
Historically, however, the Bulls labour to go two in a row across the Indian Ocean: you have to go as far back as 2007, the year of their memorable first title success under Heyneke Meyer’s tutelage, for the last occurrence in that respect.
Then, they began a taxing five-match sojourn abroad with a 19-7 triumph over the very Brumbies, and followed it up by beating the Waratahs 32-19 in Sydney.
Those Bulls then lost to the Crusaders and Hurricanes, while earning a further victory over the Highlanders, although as most South African teams will testify, a 60 percent tour win record is usually the stuff you would bite your own arm off for.
It was a case of close again for two on the trot (but no cigar) in 2009, when they beat the ‘Tahs 20-6, before being nudged out in a thriller against the Brumbies 32-31.
For a team who traditionally tend to tour less comfortably than compatriots like the Sharks and Stormers, the Bulls have had other reasonably sound ones from time to time, like in 2010 when they went win-loss-win-loss (against Force, Blues, Chiefs and Reds in that order).
But there is also no other occasion, that 2007 experience apart, when they have managed successive wins on tour in all the time Super Rugby has existed in its modern form, stretching back to 1996.
It hardly makes you want to rush out and stake your dosh enthusiastically on the Bulls for Friday, though if they can match the drive and intensity of Melbourne … you never know?
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