Bulls coach Nollis Marais said the experience gained from a year of SuperRugby was the major positive of a campaign that ended at the weekend with his team just missing out on a playoffs spot.
The Bulls ended on a high with a 43-17 romp over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, their ninth win from 15 games leaving them on 42 points, in ninth place overall and just one point behind the Sharks, who took the last quarterfinal place as the third South African qualifiers.
“At the end of the day, the Sharks finished with more points than us, but we had 14 players make their SuperRugby debuts this year and 12 of them went on their first tour to Australia. They all came through and guys like Jason Jenkins, RG Snyman and Warrick Gelant are 20/21. The guys now have one Super Rugby season behind them, but we can’t use inexperience as an excuse again next year, we will have to be much better especially since we’ll be playing against the New Zealand teams,” Marais said.
The lack of bonus points picked up by the Bulls was a key factor in their failure to make the playoffs, as they collected only four, all of them from the try-scoring bonus. Home games against the Reds – where they led 27-8 but won 41-22 – and the Rebels – where they led 42-3 but conceded four tries in the final quarter, have come back to haunt the Bulls.
“It actually makes me quite emotional because I remember after the Reds game saying that I hope missing the bonus point doesn’t come back to bite us. And every time we lost a game, we couldn’t get a bonus point either, which is very disappointing, especially when you finish just two points off the playoffs.
“I still believe our best wins were against the Stormers and the Western Force away, although a lot of guys played well against the Cheetahs, the guys pitched because a lot of them are leaving,” Marais said.
It was announced on Monday that Marais will now take the reins of the Currie Cup side, which will basically be the SuperRugby outfit minus Jesse Kriel, who once again showed how good he can be at fullback without his space being cramped like it is in midfield, Rudy Paige, Lappies Labuschagne, Marcel van der Merwe, Adriaan Strauss, Werner Kruger, Grant Hattingh and Francois Brummer.
The qualifying campaign under Hendré Marnitz has been messy with seven defeats fouling their seven wins, but CEO Barend van Graan said the change was more to do with continuity seeing as though most of the SuperRugby side will be involved.
“With almost the whole Bulls squad now available for the Currie Cup competition that is starting soon, the call was made to extend the mandate of Marais, so he will now be coaching the Blue Bulls as well. It just makes sense for him to continue with the group of players that are developing so nicely under his guidance. The call to continue with Nollis in the Currie Cup was made for rugby reasons and is not a reflection on Hendré’s abilities. The progress and growth shown by the team under Nollis is something we want to expand and grow, hence the decision,” Van Graan said.