Pretoria - Bulls coach John Mitchell believes his team “still has a long way to go” before being the finished article ahead of this year’s Super Rugby tournament.
The Bulls will start the tournament a week later than the rest of the South African teams because they have a bye in week one, but Mitchell and his management team have been hard at work trying to craft a squad that is incredibly talented, not as experienced as it needs to be and has to become better to attain success in the competition.
And Mitchell, for better or worse, is a realist. The coach hasn’t taken to making predictions, focusing rather on attaining the small goals and making the squad better as a whole, with the results hopefully to follow.
The difficulty in crafting the squad from three different groups - the player contingent that have been training together since November, the Springbok returnees and the Japanese-based Bulls - has all had its challenges, but Mitchell is confident the plan is slowly coming together.
“Yeah we’ve got maybe three different groups at the moment on different timelines. You’ve had the group who have been at home all the time, our strength and conditioning team have done a wonderful job and communicated with the test players when they got back. When they were out, when they were on their holiday and when they could start," Mitchell told SuperSport.com.
“And obviously there have been a sprinkling of the Japanese players and they are all on different timelines.
“We will get started on our younger players and certainly get our new players in early, so that we bring closure in their mind. As we move towards the competition, we will get closer to the 23 that plays against the 'Canes. That is how we are working on it.
“By the time we get to the 17th of February, everyone will be on the same working week.”
Still the coach feels hard work lies ahead before they are where they need to be for the competition.
“We still have a long way to go. We’ve built some solid foundations, we think our athletes are really healthy and we feel they’ve become a lot more robust.
“We’ve worked heavily on our individual skill-sets and there is a great attitude in the group. We’ve talked about selection before and I wasn’t hasty, I selected some really quality men in this group who are keen to become cohesive and connected.
“Obviously pressure will challenge us as well, and the trials will challenge us as well, which we need. We need to be put under stress in the next four weeks before we go to competition.”
Naming two captains may have raised a few eyebrows, but in Burger Odendaal and Nic de Jager, Mitchell has two captains which he feels he can rely on through the season.
“I’m a big believer in sharing leadership and owning leadership. Burger and Nic are also supported by a leadership group and we also have many teams that look after the culture and climate of the group.
“We believe that involving everyone helps us look after our younger players as well, who are involved for the first time in Super Rugby. We have to try and utilise the competency of people and their strengths, rather than just relying on a coach to give instruction.”
The Bulls have their first pre-season hit outs this coming weekend, where one side will face the Lions at Ellis Park at 15:00 while the other will head to Polokwane to face the Sharks at 18:00. The sides will be named later in the week.
Bulls 2018 Super Rugby squad:
Outside Backs: Warrick Gelant, Duncan Matthews, Travis Ismaiel, Jamba Ulengo, Jade Stighling, Divan Rossouw
Midfielders: Burger Odendaal, JT Jackson, Francois Brummer, Jesse Kriel, Johnny Kotze
Flyhalves: Handre Pollard, Marnitz Boshoff, Manie Libbok
Scrumhalves: Ivan van Zyl, Andre Warner, Embrose Papier
Loose forwards: Roelof Smit, Ruan Steenkamp, Hendre Stassen, Hanro Liebenberg, Jannes Kirsten, Nic de Jager, Tim Agaba
Locks: Jason Jenkins, Ruben van Heerden, RG Snyman, Lood de Jager, Aston Fortuin
Props: Pierre Schoeman, Conraad van Vuuren, Frans van Wyk, Matthys Basson, Lizo Gqoboka, Trevor Nyakane
Hookers: Jaco Visagie, Adriaan Strauss, Edgar Marutlulle
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