Bulls: Their worst start in 15 years

    2017-04-08 12:18

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Upset by the supposedly minnow Sunwolves 21-20 in Tokyo on Saturday, the Bulls simultaneously ensured the ignominy of their worst beginning to a Super Rugby campaign since 2002 at the six-match stage.

    As it happened: Sunwolves v Bulls

    Nollis Marais’s charges still sport a depressing, lone victory thus far in 2017 - 34-21 in their unconvincing first-round clash with the same Japanese foes at Loftus a few weeks ago.

    They have suffered reverses to all of the Stormers, Cheetahs, Blues, Chiefs and now a particularly unpalatable maiden one to the Sunwolves, a team beaten 83-17 by the Hurricanes at the same venue in round one.

    The outcome, one the three-time former champions could have relatively few quibbles over despite a costly late yellow card for Jan Serfontein, will pile pressure on the administrators and coaches at Loftus alike from the Pretoria public.

    Scarily, it was not as though the Bulls, playing the third game of their winless overseas tour, seemed notably demotivated - it was more a case of looking simply a second-rate side, struggling for continuity, cohesion and sparkle.

    Captain Adriaan Strauss, who missed a tackle in the lead-up to the Sunwolves’ first try, admitted to “soft moments … both individually and as a team” afterwards.

    The Bulls have four successive home matches in a row immediately ahead - Jaguares, Cheetahs, Crusaders and Highlanders in that order - which is some crumb of comfort.

    But even with nine games to go in ordinary season, their chances of reaching the playoffs phase for the first time since 2013 have taken a major knock.

    The latest result left them marooned in third in Africa Conference 1, with only six points from the six matches, three behind the competition-endangered Cheetahs and a gaping 16 behind the Stormers, who had an opportunity later on Saturday to widen the gap still further by beating the Chiefs at Newlands.

    It has been an awful start, when you consider that even in pretty humdrum 2016 and 2015 campaigns for them - ninth overall each time - they won four of their first six fixtures.

    When the Bulls last claimed the Super Rugby title in 2010, they won all of their first six matches on the trot, so the current statistic in 2017 rather shows how far the mighty have tumbled.

    They have never had such an unproductive “first six” since their nadir season of 2002, when they lost all 11 matches in the then-Super 12, and picked up a solitary log point in earning the tournament wooden spoon.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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