The Bulls continue to search for answers after a heavy Champions Cup playoff defeat by Toulouse. The 33-9 loss brought an end to their European campaign, and marked the franchise’s 10th consecutive defeat across all competitions.
Director of rugby Jake White has attempted to put the situation into perspective. The Bulls may yet qualify for the United Rugby Championship (URC) playoffs – provided that they bank sufficient log points in their last two league games against Zebre and Leinster – and go on to surprise a few of the better teams in the knockouts, as they did when they beat a star-studded Leinster side in Dublin last year. The season is not over yet and White and company are determined to finish it with a trophy.
Believing in miracles
Though that outcome seems unlikely, you wouldn’t blame fans for believing in miracles. South African teams have developed a habit of exceeding expectations.
The Springboks were written off after losing to New Zealand in the first match of the 2019 World Cup, yet went on to win that tournament. The Bulls were given no chance ahead of the clash against Leinster last year, and few expected the Stormers – plagued by off-field issues for some time – to go all the way and lift the URC trophy.
Rassie Erasmus turned South African rugby around when he joined the Boks in 2018, taking them from seventh to first in the world rankings in the space of two seasons. White had a similar impact when he joined the Bulls in 2019, and resurrected the franchise to the point where they won back-to-back Currie Cups and re-established themselves as the pre-eminent South African rugby franchise, on and off the field.
There was nothing miraculous about those turnarounds. Erasmus and White surrounded themselves with the right people and put the right structures in place to foster a winning culture. Eventually, the Boks and Bulls won consistently and found themselves in a position to win trophies.
Fast forward to the present, when the Bulls are no longer the pre-eminent franchise in South African rugby and – thanks to recent results – are in no position to expect a trophy.
We may see the odd upset in the coming weeks, but when the coaches and players reflect on the 2022/23 season, they will lament the team’s inconsistent results and their wretched record away from home.
There are external factors that have diluted their potency – more on that later – but all and sundry will know that they haven’t performed at the expected standard.
…. to be continued
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