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    Why Bulls HAVE to keep on winning

    2019-03-11 14:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - The Bulls are highly likely to be aware themselves that it would be crazily premature to suggest their Super Rugby glory days of 2007 to 2010 are about to be revisited.

    Three-time title winners in that era, the current crop are a generally young, rebuilding group who will not yet be tickling bookies’ fancy too markedly as possible baggers of the overall silverware this year; they were joint-fourth favourites with the Rebels at around 16/1 when I last looked … and it is effectively inflated by the dubious finals series seeding-rules considerations.

    Who in their right mind would confidently bet at this point against the Crusaders retaining the trophy anyway, given their massively encouraging, four-game unbeaten start and the fact that they have achieved that record while still resting several superstars?

    Nevertheless, the Loftus faithful have reason to feel increasingly chipper in 2019 about the Bulls’ chances of at very least topping the SA conference for a healthy knockout-phase seeding.

    Their emphatic victories thus far over all three major domestic rivals is a strong pointer in that specific direction.

    Having only reached the 25 percent mark of their ordinary-reason itinerary, of course, the other group rivals - including the Jaguares, only side to beat them thus far - will hardly be sweating too profusely yet over the Bulls’ lofty conference status.

    For one thing, only a relatively modest five points separate top (Bulls) from bottom (Stormers), and the Capetonians boast a game in hand: they would be all square with their Pretoria-based old rivals on Friday night if, coming off a bye, they beat the Argentineans at Newlands with a bonus point.

    Pote Human’s impressive charges have a weekend off, which is naturally welcome in certain ways, but it also arrests the momentum achieved from successive, clear-cut triumphs over the Lions and Sharks.

    It is crucial that the Bulls, while always likely to suffer a hiccup here and there in the marathon campaign, keep bagging wins rather more often that they lose, and the next few weeks continue to toss up some promise on paper of that happening.

    The Chiefs, for example, are next opponents at Loftus in a fortnight and the Mooloo Men, usually a considerable force, have had one of their worst starts ever with a nought-from-four record: almost inexplicable given some of the individual names in their ranks.

    Then the Bulls have the fairly swift return encounter with the Sharks in Durban: it should be tighter than Saturday’s clash (37-14), although hugely in-form acting skipper Handre Pollard and company will also be aware that they slaughtered the Sharks 40-10 in their own stronghold last season and will feel far from overawed about the chance of completing a 2019 double over them.

    Then it is the Jaguares and Reds at Fortress Loftus - both matches looking extremely winnable at this long-range juncture - before things potentially turn tougher with Stormers (away) and the Waratahs and Crusaders in successive Highveld slug-outs.

    There is, however, a serious sting in the itinerary tail for the Bulls: they are the last South African team to undertake their main (Australasian) overseas tour, which only underlines the importance of establishing a significant cushion over the rest of their pool rivals by then if they are indeed hell-bent on topping the pile.

    Adding to the difficulty, it is also a four-match trek (only three matches are involved for the Lions and Sharks when they undertake theirs) and involves matches, in this order, against the Rebels, Brumbies, Blues and Highlanders.

    While none look too greatly like outright “Mission Impossible”, it has to be kept in mind that the Bulls and overseas travel are traditionally not ideal bedfellows.

    In 2018, then under John Mitchell’s tutelage, they returned - albeit much earlier in the campaign - with a 0/3 record: losses to the Reds (20-14), Chiefs (41-28) and Crusaders (33-14).

    They were also winless from three tour fixtures in 2017, and their last recorded Australasian victory comes back in April 2016, when they whipped the Force 42-20 in Perth.

    So there is the serious danger that even if the Bulls finally step on the long-haul flight in mid-May with a tidy lead at the top of the SA conference, it could be dramatically eroded - or obliterated - by the finish.

    Once they return to SA soil, the only remaining business will be a home derby against the Lions.

    Here is a look at the LAST FIVE matches for the each of the teams in the SA conference, emphasising just why the Bulls have to stay on a roll in the earlier part of the season:

    Bulls (currently 1st): Rebels (a), Brumbies (a), Blues (a), Highlanders (a), Lions (h)

    Sharks (2nd): Chiefs (a), Lions (h), Hurricanes (h), Jaguares (a), Stormers (a)

    Jaguares (3rd): Hurricanes (a), Waratahs (a), Reds (a), Sharks (h), Sunwolves (h)

    Lions (4th): Highlanders (h), Sharks (a), Stormers (h), Hurricanes (h), Bulls (a)

    Stormers (5th): Crusaders (h), Highlanders (h), Lions (a), Sunwolves (h), Sharks (h)

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Fixtures

    Saturday, 23 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Stormers, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Crusaders, Sydney Cricket Ground 10:45
    • Sunwolves v Lions, Singapore National Stadium 12:55
    • Bulls v Chiefs, Loftus Versfeld 15:05
    • Sharks v Rebels, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 17:15
    Sunday, 24 March 2019
    • Reds v Brumbies, Suncorp Stadium 07:05
    Friday, 29 March 2019
    • Hurricanes v Crusaders, Westpac Stadium 08:35
    • Waratahs v Sunwolves, McDonald Jones Stadium 10:45

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