From my seat at the foot of Table Mountain it’s been quite interesting to observe a few of the issues affecting the Bulls given their bottom of the SA conference finish.
Early in the season there was much excitement about what the Bulls might achieve under former All Black coach John Mitchell. They’ve played an attractive brand of rugby, but their season has been as much of a flop as that of the Stormers. And on paper their team certainly wasn’t any worse.
As is my feeling on Stormers coach Robbie Fleck, I believe Bulls officials would be making a mistake to lose faith in Mitchell. However, they do have a big decision to make given Mitchell’s reported demand for more marquee players.
Quite a few names have been bandied about, some of which sound like pie in the sky. Frans Malherbe, for example, is under contract with Western Province until 2019, so sections of the media either have inside information about a deal being struck between the Cape Union and the Blue Bulls, or are simply repeating the rubbish they have been fed.
Duane Vermeulen is rumoured to have pulled out of a move to Bath, which puts him in the market for a deal with a South African team. However, my information is that it’s likely to be Western Province. Unless, of course, the Bulls show him the money.
And therein lies the rub. If the Bulls are to recruit big names, they will be all-in. The union is in dire financial straits. So much so, that they are driving the motion to amend SARU’s constitution so as to allow them to sell 100% of the shares in the union to an outside party.
The Blue Bulls also face a decision on Mitchell. Obviously hoping for a quick fix between the white lines, he has instead brought a vision rather than a magic wand. And judging by reports from Pretoria he doesn’t believe the Bulls have the depth at senior level to be able to win Super Rugby.
This is in spite of the Blue Bulls’ aggressive approach to contracting. They go hard at contracting the country’s best junior talent, but the ones that make it to the very top are in the minority.
So how much faith do the Blue Bulls bigwigs have in Mitchell as a long-term solution? Was his appointment always about a quick fix given the nagging doubts around his previous fall-outs with teams he has coached?
Mitchell has been nothing else than a gentleman to me. I wasn’t in favour of him being appointed as the Stormers coach because I didn’t think he would be suited to a province with their unique political dynamics. But that was not personal, and in my experience he is likeable.
Mitchell, however, has a ruthless streak. As revealed when substituting lock Ruben van Heerden just 22 minutes into the Bulls’ game against the Jaguares. If Van Heerden was indeed poor, Mitchell was quite correct from a high performance point of view. What about the human element, though?
How does this affect the other players? Do they keep their standards up to avoid similar humiliation? Or do they take exception to one of their own going through that? And how will that emotion spill over into performance?
And perhaps a little alarm bell for Loftus officials?
The self-same officials who will have to OK a last throw of the dice at reviving the franchise’s flagging fortunes by signing the cheques needed to contract the players Mitchell wants.
The honeymoon in Pretoria is over. And as with any marriage, the relationship will now be tested.
So now that the quick fix hasn’t worked, I guess the question is simply: Do the Blue Bulls have the cajones needed to follow through on Mitchell’s vision?