Hopes that Mitchell will put some beef back on Bulls bones
Loftus fans will applaud coach if he turns team around
Over the past four seasons the volume has been on mute at Loftus Versfeld. During this period of underachievement in Super Rugby there has not been much to make noise about as the Bulls failed dismally to make the knockout stages and turned themselves into the laughing stock of local adversaries.
The three-time champions of the competition last reached the knockout stages in 2013 when they narrowly lost 23-26 to the Brumbies in the semifinal.
Last season the Bulls lost 11 matches, finished 15th (below the Kings) and earned the unwanted record of becoming the first South African team to lose to the whipping boys Sunwolves.
They also suffered humiliating defeats to the Kings and Crusaders at home.
They have been operating under the radar for about four months during their gruelling pre-season to prepare for the coming campaign which starts with a tricky clash against the 2016 champions Hurricanes at Loftus on Saturday afternoon.Bosses at the union will be quietly optimistic that this is the dawn of a new area under well-travelled coach John Mitchell, whose previous spell was with the US Eagles. Mitchell arrived at Loftus in May last year during the chaotic reign of former coach Nollis Marais and has worked with the players during the Currie Cup, where they lost to the Sharks in the semifinal.
Most importantly, Mitchell designed and was in charge of the Bulls’ pre-season campaign which ended two weekends ago with a win over the Jaguares at Loftus.
Last month Mitchell named a squad of 38 with a fair balance of Springbok experience and youth and also went the unfamiliar route of naming co-captains in the form of midfielder Burger Odendaal and looseforward Nic de Jager.
For Mitchell to succeed in making the Bulls a dominant force again, he must solve the backline problems as they leaked too many tries against well-drilled teams that played enterprising and hard-running rugby last season.
In 2017 the Bulls lost their opening two matches against the Stormers and Cheetahs away from home and never recovered. An area that Mitchell must solve is the scrum which was concerning last season.
Their start to this season is not easy. After the Hurricanes opener they take on last year’s losing finalists, the Lions, at home before they travel overseas to take on the Reds, Chiefs and Crusaders.
Mitchell will rely on Lood de Jager, Adriaan Strauss, Warrick Gelant, Jesse Kriel, Handré Pollard, Jamba Ulengo, Ruan Steenkamp, Trevor Nyakane, Burger Odendaal, Tim Agaba and Lizo Gqoboka.
It’s not going to be an easy ride but if they somehow manage to go all the way, expect some noise coming from Kirkness Street.