New Zealand Super Rugby powerhouse the Hurricanes will come up against the Bulls at Loftus this Saturday in both sides’ campaign openers. And it is under the new leadership of John Mitchell that one gets the sense the underdog Bulls could cause an upset for dubbed favourites, the Canes.
The Hurricanes boast potentially the strongest side in Super Rugby this year, fielding essentially half the All Blacks back line when at full strength and are definitely among the favourites to reach the knock out stages.
And it is against this Super Rugby giant that John Mitchell truly begins the Bulls’ resurgence. Historically, the Bulls stand as a strong Super Rugby side, winning the competition on three occasions (2007, 2009 and 2010), however recent years have seen a deterioration of form and achievement from the men in blue.
New Zealand born Mitchell has been brought to the Bulls to pull them out of their turmoil and turn them into title contenders once again. This opening match will be a great opportunity to see if progress has been made, as the Canes will test the Bulls fitness and defence, elements that have been lacking in the last few years.
Springbok and Bulls centre Jesse Kriel expressed his enthusiasm in working under Mitchell and was praising of what Mitchell had already brought to the team dynamic, describing his mentorship as “refreshing” and further explaining “It’s definitely a step up from what we’re used to. You learn something new every day and the players want to come here every day to improve. I think the players enjoy it.”
While Mitchell intends to stay true to his side’s traditional strengths of a good set piece and kicking game, he has also expressed the need for them to feel comfortable without the ball in hand. Coming up against a clinical and offensive driven side like the Canes will be a great test of whether Mitchell’s want for defensive comfortability has translated to the field.
The Bulls open their campaign in front of a home crowd, under new leadership and great support for a movement forward in their rugby. They also come up against a Canes side that looks to be without super star Beauden Barrett, who is likely to be rested. There is a strong chance on Saturday that the competition favourites could be upset by the underdogs in a resurgence of Blue Bulls rugby.
LAST FIVE ENCOUNTERS
2011- Bulls win (26-14)
2013- Bulls win (48-14)
2014- Hurricanes win (25-20)
2015- Hurricanes win (17-13)
2017- Hurricanes win (34-20)
A reminder of the Hurricanes’ attacking prowess