The Bulls had a fairly smooth off-season with CJ Stander’s move to Munster being their only significant loss. Luckily, Morné Steyn and Juandré Kruger were still under contract and will only leave for France at the end of the 2013 season. Question is, will they be able to focus on the job at hand – considering the pressure they’ll be put under by the newcomers – or will it be a case of one foot on the plane?
On paper, the team looks strong and I get the feeling that they recruited with much more than 2013 on their mind. For once the Bulls didn’t try to snatch every bit of talent that shone for the other South African franchises, but contracted several very young players practically off the school benches.
With the squad already packed with Springboks and Wynand Olivier back from Japan, the Bulls further bolstered their team by borrowing Lionel Mapoe and Callie Visagie from the Lions. They have a host of young players that exhibited some serious skills during the IRB Junior World Championship, namely Paul Willemse, William Small-Smith and the very talented Jan Serfontein – player of the tournament. On top of that, they also signed young Western Province fly-half Handré Pollard.
Somewhat worrying is their long list of injuries that could keep a few key players on the sideline for the first few weeks. Wilhelm Steenkamp will definitely miss the start due to a shoulder injury and recently contracted Cheetahs prop Marcel van der Merwe will be out for about 4 months.
I was quite surprised by the young team named to play the Lions in their warm-up match. In my opinion, it was a toss-up between underestimating the opponent and being careful not to risk further injuries to the core of the squad. And I hate to admit this, but they looked really good; obviously the youngsters had something to proove.
Victor Matfield has been promoted to Forwards and Attack Coach and they pulled in Derrick Hougaard as Skills and Kicking Coach.
Captain Pierre Spies says that his broken thumb was a blessing in disguise that happened at just the right moment. He says he now has more perspective and after a decent rest, he feels recharged and ready to show the world that he still has what it takes to play and lead at this level.
Spies also hinted that the Bulls made some minor adjustments to their game – does this actually mean we’ll see more running and less kicking? If the match against the Lions is anything to go by, it sure seems like it finally dawned on Frans Ludeke that it was time to do something about their outdated style.
Ludeke did an outstanding job to rebuild his squad and management after all the losses they suffered in 2012 and although they never looked like winning the cup, they did surprise many by holding up much better than expected.
All that said, and even being as impressed as I was with their performance against the Lions, I just don’t see them doing the same this year. I’m looking at their previous season in the same light as total defiance of the underdog, and I think this season will lay bare the true effect all these big changes had on them.
My prediction for the Bulls is 9th place.
by Jackie Smit