Heyneke Meyer believes the diluted strength of Australasian teams as a result of a European exodus will favour the Bulls on tour.
The Former Bulls championship-winning coach oversaw the best tour by a South African side in the history of Super Rugby in 2007 when his charges won three of five in Australasia en route to the title.
The current Bulls side will face the same opponents in the Hurricanes, Highlanders, Crusaders, Waratahs and Brumbies – as tough a tour as you could ask for considering there are three of 2008′s semi-finalists in that group, including the defending champion Crusaders.
However, Meyer believes the loss of key players from those franchises to lucrative European deals and the relative stability of the Bulls’ squad (there are just six changes to the 25-man touring squad of 2007) means his former side have an opportunity to better their touring record and possibly even return with a clean sweep.
‘My personal feeling is that the standard of those sides is not what it was in 2007 as a result of the number of really good players who’ve left for Europe,’ Meyer told keo.co.za.
‘There’s no reason why they can’t win at least four of the five, and they have a real chance of winning all five. The Crusaders are a different side without Dan Carter and [former coach] Robbie Deans, and if Richie McCaw doesn’t recover for the match they’re weakened further. They should beat the Highlanders and the Waratahs, Brumbies and Hurricanes have shown that they’re beatable at home as well.
‘Anything less than three wins with a couple of bonus points must be seen as a failure and anything above that means they’ll be in a very strong position to finish top of the log because they’ve traditionally performed very well when they’ve returned from the tour.’
However, Meyer tempered his optimism with a word of caution relating to their opening tour fixture against the Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday.
‘It’s crucial that they start well because a defeat in the opening match of a tour will knock the confidence level of the side, and a win will have exactly the opposite effect,’ Meyer said.
‘We started the last tour with a win and that did wonders for the belief within the side. I can’t stress how important winning that first match is. The Sharks pulled off a big win in their opener against the Chiefs and that gave them the confidence they needed to get a win against the Blues in Auckland. The Bulls have to do the same.’
Barring injuries to Dewald Potgieter and Bryan Habana, the Bulls are likely to be able to name a full strength squad for their match against the Hurricanes. Habana’s form has waned since he enjoyed a superb season in 2007, but Meyer believes he remains a crucial member of their squad and is confident he’ll return to form in the near future.
‘Bryan will be the first to tell you that he’s well short of his best, but you don’t go from being a world-class player to a bad one in a short space of time,’ he said.
‘His shortcomings need to be addressed and I know Bryan and the Bulls’ coaching team are working hard to do that. But there are enough game breakers in the side to ensure that the Bulls don’t suffer because one player is off form.’
By Ryan Vrede