Bulls caught flat-footed

Loftus Versfeld is butt-ugly enough to make the terminally unlovely Voortrekker Monument look like the poor man’s Taj Mahal by comparison.

It’s concrete, as miserably grey as Eugene Terre’blanche’s beard and rises low and menacing like BJ Vorster’s brow. The face brick alongside evokes nothing so much as a cell for those who might have been detained without trial for who knows how long in another South Africa.

Not only Loftus itself is stuck in a bygone era; so are the Bulls who thunder over its yellow-green turf.

For decades, the poor souls who filled jersey numbers 12 and 13 in a Bulls line-up must have wondered whether their time wouldn’t have been better spent selling match programmes in the parking lot.

This is how Bulls rugby worked back then, and still does: brutish forwards win the ball, which is entrusted to the scrumhalf, who either hoofs it over the scrum or line-out, or passes to the flyhalf, who hoofs it over the scrum or lineout.

The forwards lumber to the next line-out, and so on and so forth until the try line looms. Then one of those okes out on the wings or the fullback darts in to score.
Simple.

And with bearded behemoth Louis Moolman at lock, knuckle-dusters made flesh like Thys Lourens on the flank, Bugs Bunny’s lovechild Naas Botha at flyhalf and the effortless class of Johan Heunis at fullback, who was going to tell the Bulls they were getting it wrong? Not while the Currie Cup titles mounted up.

Brigadier Buurman van Zyl, the coach who ordered Botha not to tackle and to stay on his feet no matter what, kept a stern watch over it all.

Bulls rugby was about as attractive as Britney Spears trying to see straight enough to find R for rehab in the yellow pages. But it worked. Well enough to earn 22 Currie Cup titles, four of them shared. Last year Bryan Habana glided through the air like a batwing fox to score the try that enabled the Bulls to win a Super 14 final that the Sharks thought they had already won.

Then, this season came the ELVs. That stands for experimental law variations, pilgrim, and they have caught the Bulls flat-footed.

The idea was to speed up the game, to take out most of the bits that had no hope of making the television highlights package. Bits like penalties and the silly errors that led to the game being stopped. But teams like the Bulls, with their pondering backs waiting for their juggernaut forwards to rumble over the opposition, are struggling.

Defending champions or not, the Bulls have crashed to second-last place in the Super 14, and things are not looking at all up.

Frik du Preez, the legendary Blue Bulls and Springbok lock forward, is not impressed. “I don’t want to cover for the Bulls because they’re playing up to maggots, but who the hell decided that rugby was unattractive,” he roared on Thursday.

“South Africa has always been famous for its forward play, and now they want to move the game away from big forwards. Do you realise that there won’t be players like Os du Randt and Bakkies Botha if we go on like this?”

Du Preez knows a conspiracy when he sees it: “The world is always trying to get South Africa. Why do they do this after we’ve won the World Cup twice in four attempts? We were the problem country because of apartheid, en ek weet nie what else nie. Now look at this.”

The popular target for public wrath is coach Frans Ludeke, who replaced the successful Heyneke Meyer this season. “Everybody is blaming Frans Ludeke,” Du Preez said. “I’ve never met him, but I’ll tell you what—it’s time for the bleddie players to take some responsibility.”

Du Preez is due to play in the Bulls’ golf day on Thursday. Expect a rash of cancellations from those bleddie players.

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