Gallant Bulls fall short
Bulls coach Pote Human believes his team has turned the corner. Human, who watched his side compete with verve and vigour before losing their Super Rugby quarterfinal 35-28 to the Huricanes in Wellington on Saturday, is of the opinion his team has now developed the necessary skills and pluck to be competitive, even when they are on the road.
"The guys have now proved we can play away from home. We can even play in New Zealand. That makes me proud of the players," said Human.
The Bulls travelled to the New Zealand capital as rank outsiders, but from the outset proved worthy adversaries to the team that won the most matches in the league stages of the competition.
The Bulls were up for the fight from the outset, scoring the first and the last tries before the break to grab the lead and drag themselves back into the contest respectively.
The Hurricanes however kept making the running but the valiant Bulls however remained in touch.
In fact, the Bulls down 24-14 at the break made a proper fist of it in the second half. Just when it looked like the Hurricanes were going to pull away the Bulls kept snapping at their heels.
A second try for Cornal Hendricks brought them back into the contest but the Hurricanes extended their lead.
However, the Hurricanes were made to sweat in the closing minutes as the Bulls launched wave upon wave of attack. In the end however, the hosts held on but the Bulls can be well pleased with their efforts.
"We were in the game throughout," said Human. "I was worried we would fall away in the closing minutes because we had travelled so much.
"The guys showed a lot of character and maybe we could have drawn it if there was more time. I’m proud of them."
Human didn’t want to dwell on the second half decisions that went against his side. Duane Vermeulen had a try disallowed that might have swung the momentum.
"I thought the ball touched the line but it was one of those 50/50 calls that goes against you. Away you are going to get those against you. That’s rugby."
The coach lamented soft moments in defence but was thrilled with Hendricks’ form.
"He is hitting form now. I see a good Currie Cup for him. Maybe Rassie (Erasmus, Bok coach) can use him. He showed he can compete at this level."
Although some of the younger members of their squad will draw from this experience, the Bulls will have to start from scratch.
Squad renewal will have to be high on the list of the Bulls’ off season activities. They will lose Handre Pollard, Lood de Jager, Jesse Kriel, Schalk Brits, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins and Vermeulen.
Pollard’s departure will come as a huge loss to the Bulls, so too the departure of Vermeulen and Brits who brought grunt and composure in equal measure. "It is heartbreaking," said Human.
"The backline will be reasonably strong. We’ll have to get locks and a number seven flank. Props like Wiaan Herbst and Simphiwe Matanzima will have to play in the Currie Cup. They will have to make their mark."
Human said the defeats to the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Loftus were his biggest disappointments.
"We just didn’t pitch." In next Saturday’s semifinals the Crusaders host the Hurricanes, while the Brumbies now have to travel to Buenos Aires where the Jaguares lie in wait.
The Hurricanes will be hoping to pull a rabbit out of the hat in Christchurch where they’ve had success in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2016.
The Brumbies won in Buenos Aires in 2017 but they’ve lost their last two matches against the Jaguares who have lost just one of their last 11 matches.