Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – What a terrible time for the once-imperious
Bulls to have to entertain the defending champions of Super Rugby.
Not too many years ago, any New Zealand team would have
dreaded the prospect of flying long-haul, smack into a massively demanding Saturday
encounter (15:05 kick-off) at Loftus.
But the old “thin Highveld air” advantage theory has long
ceased to be a notable factor against NZ opponents anyway, and it will hardly
be giving the inbound Hurricanes the heebie-jeebies as they gear up to play a
Bulls outfit running nought from three and with the future of their head coach
Nollis Marais under ever-sharpening scrutiny.
In short, the current Bulls playing personnel look a
thoroughly spooked, increasingly demotivated and disorganised bunch … so the
‘Canes, under the circumstances, could hardly be less ideal next opponents.
The Wellington-based team are the competition’s clear-cut leading
try-scorers with 72, amounting to a lethal average of 6.54 per match.
Even the tournament-leading, unbeaten Crusaders are seven
back on 65, and having played one extra game at this point.
The Hurricanes also boast the best “points for” tally
competition-wide at this juncture (483), and it is not as though their defence
has been especially compromised as a result – they are also the leanest outfit
in “points against” terms (201).
Just a glance at last weekend’s points swing between the
Hurricanes and Bulls gives an ominous indication of the likelihood that the
suffering may endure in Pretoria in a few days’ time – it is effectively 91, if
you weigh up the Hurricanes’ 61-7 victory over the Cheetahs (win margin 54)
with the Bulls’ 51-14 Johannesburg pounding from the remorseless Lions (loss
There were brief spells early in the first half at
well-populated Emirates Airline Park last Saturday when it just looked as
though the Bulls might go toe to toe with the home side on a prolonged basis in
the fast-paced affair.
After almost half an hour, for example, the visitors had
been fairly full-blooded contributors to an easy-on-the-eye spectacle,
prompting at least one neutral Springbok, the former Western Province tighthead
prop Keith Andrews (@KeithKandrews) to accurately tweet: “What a super game …
Lions playing so well. Bulls not playing too badly either!”
Yet fresh doubts about the Bulls’ collective zeal and
possibly even fitness levels progressively, painfully crept in the more the
Lions’ stuck to their up-tempo, slick 15-man approach and effectively blew
their Highveld rivals away in the final analysis.
Hardly helped by being limited to little more than a third
of possession and real estate, the Bulls were massacred 7-2 in try terms, and
barely looked like crossing the chalk in the second half.
With only 25 tries themselves now from 11 matches (a lame
average of 2.27 a game), the three-time past champions are inferior to as many
as 15 other outfits in the competition – that even includes the overall
rock-bottom Sunwolves, who have posted 29.
Sadly for the Bulls, their Super Rugby season is all but
dead in the water as far as knockout qualification is concerned: they have
fallen a gaping 15 points behind the Stormers – finally back in winning ways - in Africa Conference 1 with just four games left each.
It is also mathematically impossible already for them to
catch up to either of the Lions or Sharks from the other SA pool, in the hunt
for the third playoffs berth guaranteed to a side from either group.
The Lions had been way clear of them even before the derby
humiliation, whilst the Durban-based team officially put the Bulls out of sight
by beating the Sunwolves in Singapore with a bonus point in tow to advance to
38 points from 12 matches; the Bulls sport only 15 from 11 outings so 35 is
their most unlikely maximum.
Their remaining obligations after the formidable Hurricanes
date this weekend are Sharks (away), Kings (home) and Stormers (home).
Meanwhile the ‘Canes stay very much at the races, and will
hardly be partial to any sort of second-gear slip-up at Loftus, given the
mighty battle in the NZ conference for a controversially limited number of
The Bulls are at sixes and sevens. Wags will be inclined to
suggest that might turn to sevens and eights on Saturday …
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