The Bulls have the talent to be champions again, but do they believe it?
IF THERE is a Super Rugby team in South Africa that can replicate the Lions’ charge from last year and go all the way and win the competition then it will have to be the Bulls.
They not only have the history of being the only South African team to have won the competition since the game turned professional, winning three titles in total but they possess one of the most tal- ented and youngest squad across all conferences.
Yes the Lions stand a good chance of progressing far again in this year’s campaign, especially playing against the weaker Australian conference and they have shown that they might have no equal in South Africa. But they still have to make the leap into Super Rugby greatness and win the tournament.
The Lions remain contenders and strong contenders at that but the jury is not yet out on their readiness to ascend to the main chair at Super Rugby’s top table.
The Sharks have been perennial bridesmaids over the decades, coming close on two occasions to winning it but never getting over the line.
You see, to win Super Rugby takes more than just a squad of super athletes and a reasonably good game-plan; it also requires a lot of mental strength and belief that borders on arrogance.
The Bulls teams of 2007, 2009 and 2010 had that mental strength and belief in bucketloads and they had collectively bought into the goal of being the best team in the world.
Obviously they had some world class players in their ranks like Gurthro Steenkamp, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Gary Botha, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw, Wikus van Heerden, Fourie du Preez, Morné Steyn, Bryan Habana, Akona Ndungane, Zane Kirchner and Francois Hougaard to guide them along the way to Super Rugby immortality.
The current Bulls team holds similar talent but with far less experience than the above mentioned players when they ruled Super Rugby with fear and no team wanted to face them at Loftus Versfeld.
Bulls coach Nollis Marais has assembled a young but very talented outfit with many of his players certain to become Springboks in the not-toodistant future while the likes of Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager, Rudi Paige, Piet van Zyl, Handré Pollard, Jan Serfontein, Jesse Kriel and Jamba Ulengo come with a wealth of experience of having played at the highest level.
What this current Bulls side lacks is belief – that belief that they will not lose at Loftus, but more than anything that they will not lose to any team in the competition regardless of where and when they play.
After a bad start to the season with the losses against the Stormers and Cheetahs, the Bulls have not been as bullish as during the pre-season where the talk was about reaching the play-offs and challenging for top honours. All you hear these days is talk of rescuing their season while on tour in New Zealand and Tokyo. There is nothing to rescue; instead there is a dream to chase.
The Bulls have to chase their dream of being the last team standing but that will come with them eliminating the plethora of errors that saw them give away the games against the Stormers and Cheetahs in the first half.
But most importantly it will come down to them playing to their full potential of the unmatched talent that runs through their squad and with that they must also have the belief and back it up with performances on the field, if they are to rule Super Rugby in the same manner in which Matfield’s men did.
The Bulls can be champions again but the question beckons: Do they believe it?