Bulls take centre stage as Mitchell era begins
Town - Super Rugby was given a first glimpse of three of the four South African
teams last weekend, but the Bulls will
take to the field for the first time on Saturday when they host the Hurricanes
It is about as tough an opening
match as they could have hoped for, but what it will do is provide a very clear
early marker of how far the Bulls have evolved under John Mitchell.
It has been a pre-season that the
players have described as "different", with there being a strong
emphasis on things like diet, recovery and off-field education.
This is the fresh start that the
Bulls desperately needed, and if they can hit the ground running with an
impressive showing against the Hurricanes, then the rest of the South African
Conference will take notice immediately.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin has
already suggested that the Bulls are the South African team to watch this year,
with Mitchell having a reputation for success in his first year at a new
The Bulls, though, have won just
one of their last 12 matches against New Zealand opposition and are coming off
the back of two disastrous seasons under Nollis Marais.
While Marais looked to be
positive at every opportunity, encouraging his sides to attack from deep,
Mitchell's approach is likely to be more measured.
He will seek to be the balance
between the traditional Bulls forwards dominance of old and the enterprising,
sometimes reckless, attacking approach of late.
A look at the Bulls side on paper
suggests that the quality is there.
Despite Rudy Paige having been
dumped by Mitchell, there is still significant Springbok experience in their
backline with Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard and centre Jesse Kriel likely to
be massive players for Mitchell this season.
There is also the highly-rated
Warrick Gelant at fullback, while Burger Odendaal is now a seasoned No 12 at
Super Rugby level.
Up front, the Bulls boast more
international experience in the form of former Springbok captain Adriaan
Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Lood de Jager.
They may not have as many regular
Boks as the other South African franchises, but with those players the Bulls
should never be leaving a Super Rugby season with four wins from 15 as was the
case last year.
There are also some pedigree
loose forwards in Roelof Smit, Nic de Jager, Hanro Liebenberg and Tim Agaba at
For too long now, the South
African sides (with the obvious exception of the Lions) have been lagging
behind the New Zealand franchises.
In Mitchell, the Bulls have a
coach who knows the New Zealand landscape as well as anyone.
"Playing against the
Hurricanes will give us a good indication of where we are," No 6 flank Smit
acknowledged in a recent interview with Sport24.
"If you look at the past,
whenever the Springboks have been strong, the Bulls have been strong too.
"It is important for the
country that we get back to where we were, but it is also important for the
Mitchell will name his side for
the clash on Thursday, while kick-off on Saturday is at 17:15.