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