Season preview: Vodacom Bulls
Can a team lose a wealth of stars and still be competitive in the toughest competition in World Rugby? That's the question the Vodacom Bulls will need to answer as they head into the 2012 edition of Vodacom Super Rugby this year.
There seems a never-ending queue of people lining up to write off the Bulls' chances this year, and while those in Pretoria may feel aggrieved, there is some merit to the theory.
After all, no team come through unscathed when they lose a pack, their general and the architect of their success. The Bulls have certainly felt the losses, having said goodbye on the playing field to Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Gurthro Steenkamp, Gary Botha, Danie Rossouw and their general Fourie du Preez.
Add to that Heyneke Meyer’s departure to the Springbok job and the brains trust has been depleted somewhat at Loftus.
But despite all of this there is optimism in the Bulls ranks. They will rightly point out that they won two Super Rugby titles without Meyer helping incumbent coach Frans Ludeke and that the structures are what are important in their quest for glory.
Their pre-season demolition of the Cheetahs seems to partly back up this theory, as new young stars such as CJ Stander and Francois Venter both stepped into the injury voids of Wynand Olivier and Pierre Spies and performed well.
To understand the Bulls psyche, it is important to know that they believe in basics. Do them well and half the battle is won. While it may bring an outcry of disbelief and shouts of “10-man rugby” from the purists countrywide, the Bulls will be more than just a 10-man team this season. It is ridiculous to think they will shed their tag as a powerful pack but look rather to them adding a few more bows to their arrow on attack.
There is a quiet confidence coming out of Pretoria, and while they’re not making any bold predictions yet, they certainly are not quivering in their boots at the thought of facing the best the Southern Hemisphere has to offer.
Coach Ludeke knows it comes down to hard work and self-belief, two qualities that certainly aren’t lacking in the Bulls camp.
“It doesn’t help to make projections as to where we will end up on the log,” Ludeke explains, “What is important to us is that we back our systems and we believe in each other. With hard work we will be back at the top. We also have big dreams and we want to fulfil them.”
It must also be remembered that the Bulls were somewhat rattled by their seventh place last season. While they may have lost it in the final match against the Sharks, they set out ambitiously recruiting young stars like Johann Sadie and JJ Engelbrecht to fill the void. Players with character and who they believe will become Springboks one day.
“We believe we have the right players in the group and that we have the talent to go all the way. But we are also realistic that it takes time to bring players through. To establish combinations and to find form is a process.
“That doesn’t mean we have stopped believing. We are excited about the talent in the group and we have high expectations of ourselves, and we need to make sure that counts. We start the season at home and that is a massive positive for us. We know we play well at Loftus Versfeld and we know that a good start will give us the momentum and rhythm to go into the competition with confidence.”
With all this in mind, can the Vodacom Bulls upset the odds and turn in an exceptional 2012 performance? The odds are against them winning the competition, but those who forget the amount of talent in the squad may rue their predictions.
It is a rebuilding year for the Bulls, but with hard work and self-confidence, a little bit of momentum and a gallon of luck, they may surprise a number of teams this season.
IN: Sadie (Stormers), Engelbrecht (Stormers), Dawie Steyn, Wepener (Clermont Auvergne), Adonga (Sharks), Steenkamp (Cheetahs), Potgieter, Stander, Botha, Vermaak (Lions), Fouche, Venter, Cronje (Stormers), Visser, Mastriet
OUT: Victor Matfield (retired), Fourie du Preez (Suntory Goliath, Japan), Danie Rossouw (Suntory Goliath, Japan), Bakkies Botha (Toulon, France), Gary Botha (Toulouse, France), Gurthro Steenkamp (Toulouse, France), Jaco Pretorius (retired), Jaco van der Westhuyzen (retired), Fudge Mabeta (injured), Derick Kuun (retired), Ockie Kruger (retired), Dustin Jinka, Francois Brummer, Marnitz Boshoff, Stefan Watermeyer (Ospreys, Wales), Stephan Dippennaar (Sevens), Gerhard van der Heever (Stormers).
Johan van Graan