The Bulls will complete another sad SuperRugby campaign in Pretoria today against the Cheetahs and, by the end of the game, Victor Matfield could be the last person remaining at Loftus Versfeld with any link to the glory days of 2007-2010 when they won the competition three times in four years.
The Bulls confirmed yesterday that the match against the Cheetahs will be the last for captain Pierre Spies and flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter as they join the overseas exodus of players that will also include Jacques du Plessis, Flip van der Merwe and Akona Ndungane, while Francois Hougaard is heading for Japan but negotiations are underway for him to return for next year’s SuperRugby tournament.
Matfield is not playing against the Cheetahs because he is being rested as per the agreement with the Springbok management, but he has already announced that his playing days will be over after the World Cup.
But the veteran lock is bound to be back at Loftus Versfeld in the new year because he is the favourite to replace Frans Ludeke as coach. The man who was behind the 2009 and 2010 wins faced the Bulls board yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to save his job, but unless there was a late change in heart, Ludeke is also on his way out.
So there will be a sombre mood at Loftus Versfeld tonight, made worse by the knowledge that even a Bulls victory will do little to change their fortunes in another season that has fallen way short of expectations.
At least the rugby on offer could provide some entertainment.
New Cheetahs coach Franco Smith is preaching an expansive, linking style of play, while Spies has stressed how determined the Bulls are to end on a high.
“There’s plenty of motivation because we want to end on a high. If we can get five points and finish in the top eight on the log then the picture looks a bit better. We want to play a good attacking brand of rugby and hold on to the ball for a few more phases. There should be plenty of broken-field play and the Cheetahs love that as well,” Spies said.
Putting their bodies on the line in defence is probably not going to rank too high on either side’s list of priorities, but the Bulls should have a slight edge in motivation as they look to avoid a third defeat on home soil this season.