Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - Short-sightedness in selection, then costly complacency and hot-headedness at an advanced stage of the match ... together, they created a disastrous cocktail for the Bulls in their upset Loftus reverse to the Jaguares in Super Rugby on Saturday.
In a major blow to both their SA conference and deeper aspirations this year, the Pretoria-based side had to settle for a losing bonus point as a crumb of comfort in the 20-22 sickener for them.
It meant that the cock-a-hoop Argentineans completed the double over these foes this season - they had prevailed 27-12 in Buenos Aires in late February - after only hitting the lead for the first time in the contest as late as the 76th minute.
The Bulls had seemingly been coasting (though only relatively so, it must be said) at 20-10 to the good just a couple of minutes before that, but those two late Jaguares tries were the real killers in an unremarkable, error-laden contest.
A big contributor to the setback, too, was Pote Human’s charges being reduced to a mere 13 players in the vital closing minutes, first by a needless shoulder-leading entry to a ruck by Tim Agaba, and then a clumsy challenge in the air by reserve front-ranker Conraad van Vuuren.
Until that unpleasant sting in the tail, the Bulls probably felt they’d done enough to eke out a victory and draw level with the rejuvenated Sharks at the top of the group on 21 points; instead they find themselves joining the Lions in second on 18 - all from seven matches, one short of halfway - and with an iffy four wins each, considering that both Highveld sides haven’t yet begun their always challenging Australasian tour rosters.
The Bulls, in fact, still have a generous four further games on local soil (Reds, Waratahs and Crusaders at Loftus, Stormers at Newlands) before they travel long-haul but probably now have to ensure they win a very minimum of three of those from here to ensure they have a suitable enough cushion for a knockout-phase push before crossing the Indian Ocean.
There would have been less pressure to get on a regular winning roll against that tricky sequence of opponents had they snuck over the line against the Jaguares, who hardly produced champagne fare themselves for much of Saturday’s snore-fest and, true to long-time tradition, kept being pinged for ill-discipline or daft technical transgressions.
Certainly the Bulls, on this showing, looked a long way short of having the sort of multi-dimensionalism, pace, adventure and skills required to be genuine title material in 2019.
I had always sensed the possibility they might just slip on a banana peel on Saturday, once Human revealed his selection hand for the Jaguares clash in midweek.
At a time when they are already stripped of suspended, massively experienced hooker Schalk Brits, and with a major injury crisis affecting their lock stocks (an abundant cupboard at full strength, ironically), resting both Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel in line with Springbok rotational protocols - OK, recommendations, if you prefer - seemed a perplexing move.
Both Pollard at flyhalf and Kriel at outside centre have been among the most smooth-firing internationals among SA sides in the first couple of months of the Super Rugby season, and sitting them out together meant an additional, glaring sacrifice of continuity and guile by the Bulls.
Some light at the end of the tunnel is that lanky second-rower RG Snyman, who burst onto the Test scene with aplomb last year, may be ready to play a role against the Reds (who disposed of the Stormers on Friday before heading toward our shores, in the next Bulls assignment), again in Pretoria on Saturday.
With Eli Snyman forced off the park in some shoulder or arm discomfort during the first half against the Jaguares, the Bulls effectively had two loose forwards at lock for most of the rest of the contest, in Hanro Liebenberg and Jannes Kirsten.
Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday, April 12
Crusaders v Highlanders - 09:35
Rebels v Stormers - 11:45
Saturday, April 13
Chiefs v Blues - 09:35
Brumbies v Lions - 11:45
Sharks v Jaguares - 15:05
Bulls v Reds - 17:15
Byes: Waratahs, Hurricanes, Sunwolves
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