Bulls poised to take a big step

    2019-03-07 20:05

    Gavin Rich -

    Pretoria - Victory over the Sharks at Loftus might start to confirm what many must now surely be suspecting - this could be the year that the Bulls rise from the ashes to become credible challengers for the Super Rugby honours once more.

    Yes, it is a home game, but the Bulls showed last week in beating the Lions that they can win away. Okay, so Emirates Airlines Park is only 60 kilometres away from their home base, but the record books will confirm what a difficult venue it has been for the Bulls in recent years. They comprehensively buried that bogey last weekend.

    Their next step could be a big one. In picking up two wins in three, the Bulls have shown promise, and their performances have shown an impressive mix of the base built by last year's coach John Mitchell and some crucial additions from new coach Pote Human, who worked as Mitchell's assistant before.

    But while the Bulls have looked formidable on South African soil, the disappointingly error-ridden defeat to the Jaguares wedged between the wins over the Stormers and the Lions has left enough questions still hanging in the air. There is pressure on the Bulls on Saturday in the sense that they need to bury any inconsistency and this is definitely a game they should expect to win if they are to be realistic challengers.

    In a sense you can say it is positive pressure for the Bulls. This is their chance to take early control of the conference race, to properly establish themselves as the local team to beat.

    Conversely, for the Lions the round brings the negative pressure that is exerted on a team that is at the cross-roads and which has to win in order to avert a possible sharpening in the downward spiral. Ditto the Sharks. Both those teams need to respond this weekend or they could be in trouble going forward.

    It is too early for the Lions to be written off. It has been written often before and it has happened often before too - teams come back from bad starts in Super Rugby to win the competition. Crusaders used to make a habit of it. But there was enough justification for the loud clanging of alarm bells when they lost to the Bulls and they will reach a crescendo if they drop points at home to the Jaguares.

    Until the opening round of this year’s competition the Lions struggled away against the Jaguares, but they have been solid against the Argentinians at home. A defeat on Saturday should then be enough to start a crescendo of alarm bells and introduce real pressure on the team that has dominated the South African conference for the last three years.

    For the Sharks there is slightly less pressure in the sense that they are travelling away this week. They’ve lost once in three games but they have picked up enough bonus points (3) to almost make up an extra win. Like the Bulls they are on bye next week and then return to host the Chiefs before hosting the return match against the Bulls the following week.

    But where the pressure comes in for the Sharks is that the Stormers did expose several vulnerabilities. Fronted at forward for the first time this season, the Sharks looked rattled and bereft of any idea on how to turn the momentum around. At least that was in the first half. In the second half they were better. You fancy they will have to be considerably better to live with a Bulls team that could just start turning Loftus back into the fortress it was for them at the start of this decade.

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    Sunday, 24 March 2019
    • Reds v Brumbies, Suncorp Stadium 07:05
    Friday, 29 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Crusaders, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Sunwolves, McDonald Jones Stadium 10:45
    Saturday, 30 March 2019
    • Blues v Stormers, Eden Park 08:35
    • Reds v Rebels, Suncorp Stadium 10:45
    • Sharks v Bulls, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 15:05
    • Jaguares v Chiefs, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 23:40


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