• Super Rugby preview: Bulls

    Lood de Jager

    The Bulls will face the New Zealand sides in the 2017 Super Rugby season, writes JON CARDINELLI.

    The three-time Super Rugby champions haven’t come close to adding a fourth title to their tally in recent years. Indeed, it’s been seven long seasons since the Bulls won their last Super Rugby title, and eight since they lifted the Currie Cup.

    While the Pretoria-based side won the South African conference in 2013, they have failed to qualify for the Super Rugby playoffs in subsequent seasons. In 2016, the Bulls finished fourth in the South African group, despite featuring  in an Africa 1 conference with teams who were pitted against all the Australian franchises and none of the New Zealand sides.

    Several senior players left the Bulls at the end of the 2015 season. The franchise was dealt another blow when Springbok flyhalf Handré Pollard sustained a serious injury in pre-season training. A rare win in Australia (against the Force) proved to be the highlight of an otherwise disappointing 2016 campaign. The decision to kick less over the course of the season did not result in more tries and victories. By the end of the season, the Bulls had done nothing to challenge the belief that their game plan is flawed.

    A number of youngsters made their mark in 2016 and will take on added responsibility this year, especially as several Springboks decided to move on after the disappointment of last season. An inexperienced outfit will compete in a 2017 campaign that includes fixtures against the five New Zealand franchises.

    It would be surprising to see this Bulls team progressing beyond the conference stage.

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    FOWARD TO WATCH
    Lood de Jager

    De Jager was the Boks’ standout player in the 2015 season, and received the SA Rugby Player of the Year award. At Super Rugby level, he excelled in a struggling Cheetahs team. According to his coaches at the Cheetahs and at the Boks, the 24-year-old has come a long way over the past few seasons as a lineout manager. De Jager recently joined a Bulls franchise that is not short on second-row talent, with two more youngsters, RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins, expected to make the step up to Test level sooner rather than later. De Jager will lend the Bulls something extra with ball in hand, though, and his ability to offload in the tackle will strengthen their attack.

    BACK TO WATCH
    Jamba Ulengo
    Ulengo knows his way to the tryline. The wing scored five tries for the Bulls in the 2016 Super Rugby tournament and seven (the joint-most) in the Currie Cup. Ulengo was then selected for the Springboks’ four-game tour of Europe, and impressed with his pace and vision in the opening match against the Barbarians at Wembley. The 27-year-old was handed his Test debut in the final match of the tour against Wales. The Bulls will be looking to Ulengo to provide some impetus on attack and to continue his good form under the high ball in 2017. The player himself should be aiming to take his game to the next level in order to convince the Bok coach that he deserves an extended run in the green and gold No 11 jersey.

    BIG SIGNING
    Lood de Jager (Cheetahs)

    The lock will bolster the Bulls’ set piece and running game.

    BIG LOSS
    Lappies Labuschagne (Kubota Spears, Japan)

    The Bulls boast several promising young loose forwards, but may miss Labuschagne’s experience.

    PRE-SEASON REPORT: Bulls outplay Chiefs

    2017 FIXTURES
    25 February: Stormers (a)
    4 March: Cheetahs (a)
    BYE
    17 March: Sunwolves (h)
    25 March: Blues (a)
    1 April: Chiefs (a)
    8 April: Sunwolves (a)
    15 April: Jaguares (h)
    22 April: Cheetahs (h)
    BYE
    6 May: Crusaders (h)
    13 May: Highlanders (h)
    20 May: Lions (a)
    27 May: Hurricanes (h)
    BREAK FOR JUNE TESTS
    1 July: Sharks (a)
    8 July: Kings (h)
    15 July: Stormers (h)

    PRE-SEASON REPORT: Bulls tame young Lions

    2016 NUMBERS THAT MATTER
    22 – Lineouts stolen (rank 3)
    271 – Defenders beaten (rank 12)
    47 – Tries scored (rank 8)
    399 – Points scored (rank 9)
    332 – Kicks from hand (rank 11)
    118 – Clean breaks (rank 14)
    1,448 –  Carries (rank 15)
    5,613 – Metres made (rank 17)
    232 – Missed tackles (rank 17)
    Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App

    2016 RECORD 

    Won: 9
    Draw: 1
    Lost: 5

    PREVIOUS LOG FINISHES
    SUPER 12
    1996: 3rd (semi-finalists)
    1997: 8th
    1998: 11th
    1999: 12th
    2000: 11th
    2001: 12th
    2002: 12th
    2003: 6th
    2004: 6th
    2005: 3rd (semi-finalists)
    SUPER 14
    2006: 4th (semi-finalists)
    2007: 2nd (champions)
    2008: 10th
    2009: 1st (champions)
    2010: 1st (champions)
    SUPER RUGBY
    2011: 7th
    2012: 5th (qualifiers)
    2013: 2nd (semi-finalists)
    2014: 9th
    2015: 9th
    2016: 9th
    Note: Played as Northern Transvaal in 1996 and 1997

    FAST FACT
    Jan Serfontein was named 2012 IRB Junior Player of the Year and made his Bok debut in 2013.

    FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER
    @JesseKriel15

    OTHER SA PREVIEWS
    Cheetahs
    Kings
    Lions
    Sharks
    Stormers

    Photo: Bulls Facebook page

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