TO a large degree, 2015 has been a year of change at Loftus Versfeld. While the Super Rugby competition wound its way to an ultimately disappointing end where the Bulls finished ninth, the Currie Cup brought a measure of relief for the fans.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls reached the semi-final in the main domestic competition where the young team – one of the features of change – were just not good enough on their first really big day.
Up till then, there had been a heart-warming series of performances by the team of new coach Nollis Marais which brought more excitement into the game.
Why then did the Blue Bulls fail to advance beyond the semi-final? Read Blue Bulls centre William Small-Smith’s insightful column about the need for change, which can be applied directly to the team’s fortunes.
Dan Lombard, in his already popular column From a Wheelchair, says it’s time for South Africa to realise their potential.
Dan also writes about the flyhalf riches at Loftus, and sports scientist Lee-Anne Diab gives a hint of what the players are up to during the pre-season phase – including a glimpse of what their diet should look like over the holiday period!
It has been a good club season at the BBRU, and the union’s CEO Eugene Hare in his column gives some background about the amateur aspects that keep the game thriving in Pretoria. And: If you are into the world of cars, a read of Petrolheads is always a good option.
Shanil Mangaroo and Wim van der Berg
by William Small-Smith
Lappies is not a man of many words, but when he talks, everybody listens. "I must say being named captain of the Vodacom Blue Bulls came as a real shock for me" says Lappies."It's an honour and a huge privilege to lead this team and I would rather die on the field than let them down."
Lappies made the journey to Pretoria at the end of 2014 and has since been a pillar of strength for the Vodacom Bulls. His work rate, physicality and defensive abilities make him a force to be reckoned with on the field. Yet his approachable, always friendly attitude off the field makes him a warrior leader with the support of all his teammates.
Coach Nollis Marais initially did not name a captain for the 2015 Currie Cup season, saying he wanted to observe who put their hand up for the job. Lappies didn't change his workhorse approach to the game, and through it inspired his fellow teammates to follow suite.
"We as a team decided to dedicate this season to the Lord, because he gave us the talent to play rugby, and we honour His name by doing so," explains Lappies.
The new ball-in-hand approach the Vodacom Blue Bulls have adopted fits Lappies like a glove. "I have an attacking mindset when it comes to rugby, and the new plan gives us the opportunity to express ourselves while taking responsibility for our actions,"" says Lappies.
In Luschagne the Bulls have truly found a man to follow!
by Ockert de Villiers
The Vodacom Blue Bulls back three of Warrick Gelant, Jamba Ulengo, and Travis Ismaiel have been a revelation this season, personifying the Currie Cup team's new ball-in-hand approach.
Since taking the reins as coach in the Currie Cup campaign Nollis Marais has placed a high premium on entertaining rugby and showing immense faith in young talent.
Chief among the youth brigade is the 20-year-old Gelant, who Ismaiel describes as the 'puppeteer pulling the strings' from the last line of defence.
"We said before the start of the season we wanted to form a good combination. I think at times it worked out well for us and we are really enjoying it," Ismaiel said.
"We are close mates and we enjoy playing together, so we are just happy to get onto the park."
The trio fulfil different roles in the team’s attacking arsenal with Ulengo the sharpest and most effective try-scoring machine.
Ulengo finished the round-robin phase of the Absa Currie Cup competition as the leading try-scorer with the 11 five-pointers behind his name.
Although Ulengo is taking the shine thanks to his try-scoring prowess, Ismaiel emphasises that it is their collective effort that should be celebrated.
"It is fun and we are playing for each other. We are looking to score tries and very often we are getting it right," Ismaiel said.
"I am happy with the way things have gone and I am really happy being at the Bulls."
It isn’t far-fetched to imagine the three close mates being instated as the Springbok back-three in the not too distant future.
Ulengo said although the players may have lofty dreams, it should not detract from the main goal of enjoying the game they love.
"We set out some goals before the tournament. We agreed Warrick would step some guys and that Travis and I should do the finishing off," he explained their three-pronged attack.
By virtue of winning the Northern section of the national amateur competition the Blue Bulls advanced to the national amateur play-offs. Their adversaries in the round-robin series were the Sharks Club XV, who were the winners of the Central section and the Boland, winners of the Southern section.
The Blue Bulls easily beat Boland, 48-10, and then faced the Sharks team in what was effectively a final, winning 60-27.
The Blue Bulls physicality up front and some exquisite skills behind the scrum set the platform for the comprehensive victory.
Flyhalf Steven Moir, who scored 20 points with his boot, was also the playmaker and strategist in the math where the Blue Bulls scored eight tries to three by die KZN outfit.
Points were scored by: Tries: Dwight Pansegrouw (2), Emile Temperman (2), Anton Beswick, Jade Stighling, Willie Engelbrecht, Gerrit Engelbrecht. Conversions: Steven Moir (7). Penalties: Steven Moir (2).
The preceding Northern section of the national amateur competition where the Blue Bulls qualified for the national play-offs was hosted by the Pumas in Nelspruit.
It was a very successful week for the Blue Bulls and they brought back both the trophies in the Cup and the Plate competitions.
In the final of the Nelspruit tournament the Blue Bulls Amateur team came up against the hosts. The Bulls played well and denied the home team the honours, winning 35-10.
The defending champions, the Leopards, knocked out the Blue Bulls XV from the Cup competition into the Plate competition earlier in the week but the Bulls XV still managed to make it to the Plate Final where they won a close match 11 - 10 against a determined Limpopo Bulls outfit.
Every school boy in Pretoria dreams of pulling the Sky Blue jersey over his head to represent the Blue Bulls one day.
This ideal was integral to the build up to the 2015 Iqhawe week. Preparations started early in the year and on September 1, the final 23-man team was selected.
The dream of wearing the Light Blue jersey came true for these 23 boys, when they left for Mossel Bay early in October to represent the Blue Bulls Rugby Union in the third annual Iqhawe week presented by South African Rugby Legends in association with the South African Rugby Union.
The tournament has 14 teams from the 14 unions of South Africa.
The purposes of the Iqhawe week is development and transformation as well as the focus on identifying and developing players for the following year's Under-16 Grant Khomo Week.
by Dan Lombard
ONE might think that the differences between New Zealand and South African rugby are as vast as the Sahara Desert is empty. In fact, they are more similar than people think.
Both teams have good set pieces; players who can break open games and the ability to win matches they should have lost.
Dan Coles highlighted the difference in skill sets when he ran a sublime angle during the test at Emirates Airline Park in July. He split the Springboks defence in half and ran 25 metres to score.
South Africa’s Jesse Kriel did the exact same thing earlier in the match but what was different was that Coles is a hooker who is not usually expected to show that level of ingenuity.I beg to differ from that view.
The frustrating thing about South African rugby is that we do have players with exceptional skills. Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana and Fourie du Preez immediately spring to mind.
Duane Vermeulen showed a glimpse of his skills potential in the Rugby World Cup semifinal against Wales when he gave a backdoor pass to Du Preez who scored the match-winning try.
Habana showed great presence of mind to snatch a discarded ball from a maul to score a try in the RWC match against the United States.
The question is, why do these feats not happen more often?
The answer, in my opinion, is that South African rugby players are too afraid to try new things on the field. This is a coaching issue as the mandate is to play safe rugby.
This mandate cannot work in a world where teams' defences are getting tighter and tighter. We need that deft moment where a player’s skill set blows a match wide open.The development of a player’s skill set starts at his union. The national coach should build on the players' skills, not develop them from scratch. Vodacom Blue Bulls coach Nollis Marais brought in a refreshing new playing style in the 2015 Currie Cup.
His inexperienced charges failed to make the final after securing a home semi-final but this didn't stop them from finishing third in tries scored (41) and metres run (6681) behind the Golden Lions and Western Province respectively.
They showed their willingness to run and use their skill set to beat 63 defenders and offload the ball 86 times.
It is hoped that with Marais overseeing the 2016 Super Rugby campaign the Bulls will continue to implement a more rounded game plan. I get the feeling that we have only seen a fraction of what this team can achieve under Marais. Time as always will tell.
Dan Lombard – Dan is a sports journalist with a passion for rugby. In 2008, he was involved in a freak accident during a practice match yet his love for the game has remained strong. Follow him on Twitter - @DanLombard4
by William Small-Smith
THE last few weeks I have had the same thought stuck in my head. While I had been enjoying my off-time from training and playing, my brain was constantly processing the following: "The only constant is change."
Now, as a left brain who thrives in routine and structure, change often pushes me out of my comfort zone. Old habits and routines have a certain friendly familiarity to them, while change brings with it new challenges.
Ask yourself the following questions: Do you have certain favourites that you always order from a menu or a certain parking space at your local mall? If you are like me and the answer is yes, then it shows how we are drawn to the familiar.
We need to adapt to new scenarios every day so that when pressure is added in a game of rugby, we will not return to our "safe" habits but will rather welcome the new possibilities!
The moment we realise that our habits may be the reason that we stagnate, we approach every day as a new day. The rules you set for yourself five years ago may not still be applicable today. And that applies to rugby as it does in life.
The kick and chase approach that won three Super Rugby tournaments is not the way forward.
Crowds no longer want to see ‘ugly win’ rugby. They want players to take chances, make decisions in the moment and adapt to the situation.
Rugby has changed, expectations have changed; it's time for old habits to join the VCR and be replaced by something new, something exciting and something that will change the way we play rugby!
Now there is nothing wrong with a good routine or habit, but at a certain point our routines start limiting us. For example, if you always eat the same meal, you never open yourself up to an even better meal.
Rugby adds another dimension called pressure. If we in our everyday lives are drawn to the familiar and the options we have previously found safe, how much more under pressure will we not do the same?
At the Blue Bulls we tried to change our approach and the way we play this season, but under pressure we returned to our old "safe" habits. Saying you want to run the ball is one thing, but doing so under the pressure of a semi-final is another.
It is necessary that we realise that as a person we change constantly, whether we want to or not. We must realise the