At the beginning of the season I thought the Bulls looked like an outfit that would blow hot and cold for the whole campaign, but when blowing hot would be a challenging side to face. After three rounds and three losses their efforts suggest it may be a season characterised by sometimes close matches, but ultimately unattractive and disappointing losses writes Oliver Keohane.
In Round 1 against the Sharks, the Bulls were more promising than poor, and I felt they were slightly unlucky to lose, with defensive sloppiness undoing them as the game progressed. Against the Stormers the following week they were erratic but not easy to beat, and dominated much of the possession and territory. After a week’s rest and playing at the once-was fortress of Loftus, the Bulls would most assuredly beat a Blues side that had been pumped by their New Zealand rivals, had just landed in South Africa and were without Rieko Ioane. Apparently not. Neither altitude, the supposedly-South-African-preferable wet conditions nor their pack could help a Bulls side that looked to be un-coached past the flyhalf channel and once again unable to hold onto their physical and scoreboard dominance and secure a win.
The Bulls, as has been a trend thus far, were poor on defence and beaten out wide by a Blues attack that didn’t even look particularly threatening. They were also ill-disciplined, with 12 penalties and two yellow cards, with a penalty in the final minute ultimately costing them the game. However perhaps more telling was their inability to capitalize on a Blues side that also conceded two yellow cards and was penalised 15 times! What stands out most about Saturday is not that the Bulls lost to a good side, as was the case in their first two matches against the Sharks and Stormers, but that they they managed to be more poor than a Blues side that was also objectively very poor.
The Bulls trajectory this season doesn’t looking promising. While I don’t think many sides will walk over them, they will most likely not be providing very entertaining rugby, nor very many wins. To be unable to beat New Zealand’s most inconsistent side at home and after a week’s rest says something about the mental strength of the side and doesn’t suggest promising results for them on the road. I see a Bulls side that may knock over one two of the Aussie sides, be competitive in the local derbies and probably lose most of their matches against the New Zealand teams. Luckily they don’t face the Crusaders.
My sentiments around the Bulls were based on a physical pack, coaching continuity and the belief that they were implementing their traditional strengths of a strong set piece and kicking game in 2020. What has become obvious instead is a lack of creativity on attack, a lack of organization on defence and lack of discipline throughout the game.