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    Massive task for Mitchell at bruised Bulls

    2018-02-24 07:53

    Johannesburg - Former All Blacks coach John Mitchell was given no Super Rugby fixture favours as he faces the herculean task of reviving fallen South African giants, the Bulls.

    The Pretoria outfit face defending champions the Crusaders, former winners the Hurricanes, the Reds and Chiefs and two-time runners-up the Lions in consecutive weekends.

    Starting on Saturday, the three-time champions host the Hurricanes and Lions at Loftus Versfeld, then cross the Indian Ocean to Australasia for the other three fixtures.

    While it is not inconceivable that the Bulls could lose all five matches, Mitchell is upbeat ahead of the season opener against 2016 champions Hurricanes.

    "It is cool starting against a New Zealand side as it creates greater attention to detail," the 53-year-old said ahead of his third Super Rugby coaching assignment.

    "Teams like the Hurricanes pose so many attacking threats and if you do not look after the ball, they can hurt you.

    "New Zealand teams have set the standard in this competition since 2014 and they just keep getting better and better.

    "While Super Rugby does not come down to one match, it is important to begin your campaign well and build on that.

    "My guys are nice and calm and will rip into the Hurricanes this weekend," said the former coach of the Western Force in Perth and the Lions in Johannesburg.

    Mitchell came to Pretoria last year after coaching the American national team and charged with the task of restoring pride in a Super Rugby side that won only four matches during the past season.

    But a string of defeats in the domestic Currie Cup forced officials to dump coach Nollis Marais and elevate Mitchell sooner than planned.

    The influence of the Hawera-born New Zealander quickly turned the team around and they reached the semi-finals before making a dignified exit.

    It was not just the results that changed for the better - the Bulls abandoned the traditional kick-and-chase game for a faster ball-in-hand approach.

    Mitchell calls the new style "evolution", but long-time Bulls supporters would probably label it a "revolution".

    After all, this is a team that won three Super Rugby titles in four seasons from 2007 using simple but incredibly effective tactics.

    Springbok legends Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha lorded the lineouts and star scrumhalf Fourie du Preez would kick long and accurately.

    Opponents inevitably committed errors and the South Africans would pounce to win consistently.

    The 61-17 destruction of the Chiefs in the 2009 final was the finest performance by a South African team in Super Rugby.

    But the days of scoring 60 points have long gone for the Bulls as stars retired and less talent replacements came in, leading to dwindling crowds.

    Mitchell believes he can turn the tide: "The good thing is that everyone has bought into the way we want to do things.

    "They recognised the work ethic that is required and quickly realised that this is a place to learn and get better each day.

    "We want to start winning consistently - that is the bottom line now."

    Mitchell became All Blacks coach in 2001 and lost his job two years later after a Rugby World Cup semi-finals loss to hosts Australia.

    Kick-off is at 17:15.

    Teams:

    Bulls

    15 Divan Rossouw 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Frans van Wyk, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman

    Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Duncan Matthews

    Hurricanes

    15 Matt Proctor, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Ihaia West, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (captain), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith

    Substitutes: 16 James O'Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ben Lam

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    Fixtures

    Saturday, 26 May 2018
    • Reds v Highlanders, Suncorp Stadium 11:45
    • Bulls v Brumbies, Loftus Versfeld 15:05
    • Stormers v Lions, Cape Town 17:15
    Friday, 01 June 2018
    • Highlanders v Hurricanes, Forsyth Barr Stadium 09:35
    Saturday, 02 June 2018
    • Blues v Rebels, Eden Park 07:15
    • Chiefs v Crusaders, FMG Stadium Waikato 09:35
    • Reds v Waratahs, Suncorp Stadium 11:45

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