So much for that long, slow rebuilding period, eh?
Having lost a number of Bok legends and the durable Danie Rosssouw, no one expected the Bulls to do more than compete this year.
But someone clearly forgot to tell that to the (relatively) young guns left behind to build the next blue-clad dynasty. From 1-22 the 2012 Bulls have put up their hands to be counted and are doing their best to make sure that the Loftus faithfuls keep those smiles they’d flashed so often in the last decade.
Pierre Spies, long derided by many, this wannabe writer included, as an open-ground show pony with no heart for the close quarter physical exchanges has blossomed – if one can use that term – with the burden of leadership on his impressive shoulders. Mahlatse Ralepelle is showing the rounded game that’s made him the blue-eyed boy of SA Rugby and silencing critics with each barnstorming performance.
Frans Hougaard has, as expected, brought a different flavour to the scrumhalf, but he is proving to be no disappointment compared to the legend he succeeds.
The beauty of all this is that it is not just the players mentioned already (who could have previously been considered the next tier) who are doing well, but the likes of Dean Geryling, Werner Kruger and Jacques Potgieter have stepped up to make themselves viable, first-choice, go-to men. It’s as smooth a transition as has been effected outside of Canterbury. This does of course speak wonders for the talent spotting and development structures put in place by former Bulls supremo and now Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, but credit must go to current coach Frans Ludeke.
Granted, it’s early days yet, and that slip against the Blues did serve as a reminder that this team is a work in progress, but the signs are promising. The full, arduous Super Rugby season will be a truer test of where this team can go. The Sharks were fended off nicely in the opening round, the Cheetahs demolished enough to show the gulf in class, and yesterday’s rundown of the defending champions, Reds, was just breathtaking.
The Bulls may not be championship material again just yet, but it doesn’t look like the good folk who fill up Fortress Loftus will wait long to celebrate again. And this is coming from a dyed-in-the-wool Sharks fan.