‘Messy’ Bulls end season with a whimper

The Bulls weren’t able to get past the Cheetahs in their Currie Cup semi-final. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

The Bulls weren’t able to get past the Cheetahs in their Currie Cup semi-final. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

Published Jun 19, 2023


Cape Town - Opting to select their best team for most of the Currie Cup eventually took its toll on the Blue Bulls, according to assistant coach Hugo van As following Saturday’s 39-10 semi-final defeat in Bloemfontein.

The Bulls came up short on all three fronts this season, going down in the Champions Cup round of 16, United Rugby Championship (URC) quarter-finals and Currie Cup semifinals.

The only real consolation for Jake White’s outfit is that they qualified for next season’s Champions Cup by finishing sixth on the URC log.

But there will be a lot of soulsearching in the corridors of Loftus Versfeld over the next few months about their player corps, coaches, gameplans and team goals for the 2023/24 season.

It was clear that the Bulls lacked a cutting edge on attack whenever Springbok stars Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie were not available, while captain Marcell Coetzee’s six-month sabbatical in Japan underlined his importance to the team as they missed his all-action style upfront.

White will need to make some tough decisions on the player contracting front, while he has spoken over the last few weeks about wanting to see some of his forwards such as Ruan Nortjé and Johan Grobbelaar bulk up during the offseason.

The arrival of giant tighthead prop Wilco Louw from English club Harlequins and utility forward Jannes Kirsten from Exeter Chiefs will add much-needed grunt to the pack as well.

— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) June 17, 2023

The Bulls are looking for more X-factor players to complement Arendse and Moodie, with Edinburgh fullback Henry Immelman already on his way to Pretoria, while they have reportedly signed former Stormers speedster Sergeal Petersen from a Japanese club and been linked to Pumas star Sebastian de Klerk.

“Very disappointing (season), let’s be honest,” Van As said during the post-match press conference.

“The Bulls are a proud union and organisation, and we are very disappointed with the URC, losing in the quarter-finals, and (on Saturday) losing in the semi-finals. Credit must also go to this group who decided that they wanted to participate and be part of the Currie Cup, as we were down and buried after five or six rounds.

“They showed a lot of character, but we are disappointed with our seasons. I really think these boys deserve a good break – mental and physical break ...

“Obviously, there are a couple of players joining, but I think the big thing is for the boys to get out and get away, and not think about the game for three or four weeks – and then we will start with the process from there.”

The Bulls had more than enough opportunities to put the Cheetahs under scoreboard pressure, and were let down by poor handling and execution, while some of their decision-making also left a lot to be desired. They were unable to counter the Cheetahs’ rush defence, and their ill-discipline also saw veteran flyhalf Ruan Pienaar slot six penalties.

“Especially in the first half, we felt that there were small margins in the game. We had a lot of opportunities and we didn’t use it, and it also didn’t come our way. The word ‘messy’ is exactly what we felt about how the line-outs and drives were going.

“Credit must go to the Cheetahs. “Again they brought their physical game to the party. They rushed us in defence; the breakdown was messy. So a lot of credit must go to them, as they were also disrupted in the front row.

“If we had used our opportunities better, we would’ve been in a much different situation. I must be hones, I don’t think we can put it down to anything else.

“It was a long season, and the team has played a hell of a lot of rugby. As much as this group of players showed so much character to keep on fighting to make the semifinals, I think maybe at the end of the day, that counted against us.”