PRETORIA – The spectre the Bulls once had over their opponents at Loftus has been lost and it’s up to the fans as much as the team to get it back.
The Bulls succumbed to their third straight Super Rugby defeat this season but, crushingly, their first at home when they went down 23-21 to the Blues on Saturday.
The most troubling bit, though, was that the visitors had no sense at any point during the game that they had been beaten – Loftus’ fear factor was gone.
They may as well have been playing in Auckland.
The wet weather favoured the accomplished game-management Morne Steyn ought to have provided, and the pack a spring in its step after holding their own against the Stormers two weeks prior.
And while the Blues breached the barricades first through Mark Telea, it was during a spell when the home team were down to 13 men.
A five-point concession didn’t seem like much at the time, after defending for almost 15 minutes of that spell without the ball or territory.
— Official Blue Bulls (@BlueBullsRugby) February 22, 2020
Then when Steyn got the Bulls’ first try of the season in the corner on the halftime hooter, to take an 11-8 lead into the sheds, it seemed like the ills of the past were put right and a standard Steyn full house was in the offing. None of it came to pass.
The second half was meant to be the coming together of all the elements, putting right the attacking deficiencies from previous weeks, as the wet weather abated in the middle of the half, and giving their fans something to cling onto this season.
The opposite came true.
The Blues looked stronger and stronger and they struck two telling blows through Tom Robinson and Stephen Perofeta.
The Bulls thought they had come back to snatch the win when energetic flank Jeandre Rudolph crossed the tryline and Manie Libbok converted.
The fans – with an admirable turnout considering the pelting rain – sensed that something was afoot, but they weren’t sure whether the bounce of the ball was going to fall their way.
This is where in the past they would take over the spectacle to get to cheer their team on and make the place uncomfortable for the visitors.
In years gone by it was them that would see to it that their team kept their defence intact, yelling boisterously when every tackle was made and giving their team a lift from the stands.
— The Blues (@BluesRugbyTeam) February 23, 2020
Roll the tape back to 2009, when they thumped the Blues 59-22 at Loftus on their way to their second title. It wasn’t just that they had world-class players alone that made the job impossible for visiting teams, but the fans made the place a living hell for anyone who stepped foot on the turf.
With their team now looking fresh out of ideas and facing last year’s losing finalists, the Jaguares this Saturday, it will be tempting for many to stay at home, but their team needs them more now than ever before.