Super Rugby preview: Bulls
Cape Town - A young side with a new vision and a new coach, the Bulls struggled to impress in Super Rugby 2016.
They were on the right side of the draw - they avoided all of the New Zealand sides - but the Bulls let leads slip far too often and in the end didn't make the play-offs.
A tough New Zealand schedule awaits in 2017 and the Bulls' path to the playoffs will be even tougher, but the good news is that they have worked with coach Nollis Marais for a while now - he moves into his second Super Rugby season - and they have flyhalf Handre Pollard back.
The Bulls last year looked to abandon their old 10-man style of rugby for a move towards something more expansive. While it may have been more exciting to watch, it didn't do much for results.
Marais will be hoping to find the right balance this year.
The Bulls are due. They have finished 9th on the overall log for the last three seasons.
Pollard being fit again is massive for the Bulls. In 2016 they used Tiaan Schoeman and Francois Brummer at flyhalf and, with respect to both of those players, the Bulls will be significantly better off with a No 10 of Pollard's caliber. If they want to continue their revolution towards an attacking outfit, then Pollard is the man to facilitate that change.
Lood de Jager. The Springbok lock joins from the Cheetahs in a move that seriously bolsters the Bulls pack. His lineout work is superb and he could form a lethal partnership with RG Snyman. A fit-again Jacques Potgieter will also give the Bulls forwards some much-needed muscle. They have also brought in centre Johnny Kotze (Stormers).
The Bulls were hit hard in the front row where Marcel van der Merwe and Dean Greyling were lost to France and Werner Kruger to Wales. They have also lost second-rower Grant Hattingh and loose forwards Lappies Labuschagne and Deon Stegmann to Japan. Lock Marvin Orie has joined the Lions. It is hard to say which of those players the Bulls will miss most, but Van der Merwe's experience in the front row would have been welcomed.
February 25: Stormers (a)
March 4: Cheetahs (a)
March 11: BYE
March 17: Sunwolves (h)
March 25: Blues (a)
April 1: Chiefs (a)
April 8: Sunwolves (a)
April 15: Jaguares (h)
April 22: Cheetahs (h)
April 29: BYE
May 6: Crusaders (h)
May 13: Highlanders (h)
May 20: Lions (a)
May 27: Hurricanes (h)
June 30: Sharks (a)
July 8: Kings (h)
July 15: Stormers (h)
The Bulls to edge the Stormers and secure a home quarter-final.