While the focus is of necessity still on the Bulls general improvement in Super Rugby this year, the Blue Bulls Rugby Union (BBRU) has quietly but impressively also made great strides at club and grassroots level in recent times.
The franchise Bulls went unbeaten in their Super Rugby matches (excluding a later play-off) through New Zealand for the first time in six years and moved from 12th place in the combined standings of the competition in 2018 to fifth this season, their highest placing in nine years.
They won five or their six matches against the SA franchises, their only loss being by one point against the Stormers in Cape Town.
The Bulls also have the top points scorer in the series in Handré Pollard, who contributed 194 points to his team’s efforts.
Tukkies improved from second last in the 2018 Varsity Cup series to the final of this year’s edition of the competition. The Blue Bulls team also won the tournament for deaf players.
VOLCANO SUPER LEAGUES
The BBRU’s declared objective for 2019 was to approve club rugby, both in quality and in numbers of players and spectators.
All three these mini-objectives have been reached by combining the traditional Carlton Cup competition sides of the BBRU with the new cross-border sides from competitions in Limpopo Blue Bulls, the Valke Rugby Union and the Leopards Rugby Union.
The four Carlton Cup sides of the BBRU (Tukkies, Centurion, Naka Bulls, and QBR) play in the Volcano Super Cup League with four sides from across the BBRU borders, i.e. Springs and East Rand United (both Valke), Northam (Blue Bulls Limpopo) and Impala (Leopards).
When the BBRU clubs play one another, their resultant log points are registered for both competitions, the Carlton Cup and the Volcano Super Cup.
For the cross-border clubs every result of course affects their standing in the Volcano Super Cup League.
Tukkies won the Lucas Strachan Shield, for club that is ahead of the halfway stage of the Carlton Cup competition, for the umpteenth time.
All clubs field a team in the first, second and third leagues of the Volcano Super Cup competition, as they do for the Super Trophy League competition.
There were also two U20 leagues of which the finals were played last weekend. QBR won the U20 Super Cup competition by beating Tuks 39-36 with the Super Trophy U20 final going the way of Tukkies after their 38-25 win against QBR.
Progress at club level
One of the most notable developments at club level this year was the ‘resurrection’ of Pretoria Rugby Club which had been dormant for a number of years.
Pretoria performed well in their first season back. They played in the new Volcano Super Trophy League (see below) and even WON the President’s league in the internal BBRU competition as part of this league. They also lead the Volcano Trophy League against all teams, including cross-border competing clubs.
Pretoria lost only one match in each of the first and second leagues of the Super Trophy competition and finished sixth in the third league section.
An old club is seriously back in force!
♦ Another interesting development at the Bulls is the return of former professional players to the club leagues. They even have a former Springbok loose forward Jacques Potgieter, who returned to the Volcano Super Top League (incorporating the famous Carlton Cup) in June to play for the Naka Bulls!
It is in line with BBRU president Willem Strauss’ motto of LESS CONTRACTS MORE OPPORTUNITIES.
The U21s had great wins in their warm-ups against the Sharks, with the A-side winning 89-17 and the B-side victorious by 43-12. The Blue Bulls also beat the Leopards 84-13.
Then, in their first outing in the SA Under 21 Championship the Blue Bulls trounced Western Province 55-27, scoring seven tries to three last weekend. On Saturday they beat the Free State 73-28, scoring 11 tries.
Their next league match is next Saturday (July 7) against the Sharks in Pretoria.
The U21 Championship is of course of particular importance with the lesser number of contracted players and the salary caps that are being phased in, meaning that more players will come from the club structures than in recent years.
When SA Rugby announced that the U19 round robin competition in two divisions will be converted into a compact one-week tournament comprising 16 teams – the 14 provincial unions, Limpopo and another team to be determined – at a single venue, many leading unions shed their contracted junior players who had to go their own preferred way.
Not the Blue Bulls. In fact, they will be quietly smiling about the new SA Rugby ruling that club players in their first year out of school will be eligible for selection in line with the competition’s objective of unearthing new promising players who have not represented their provinces at school or junior provincial level.
The reason? The Blue Bulls mixed the contracted U19 players with the U20 club players – and the Blue Bulls firmly believe that as far quality and depth are concerned, their new U20 competition is probably the strongest in the country.
“We have seen some excellent rugby in the two U20 Volcano leagues,” says Strauss, left.
“It is interesting that some of our local lads playing club rugby outshone the contracted Blue Bulls players who joined them at the various clubs,” said Strauss of their U20-league.
He says that with this quality of rugby he is confident that this change in the club competition had overcome the gap created by the cancellation of the Under 19 Provincial Championship series and that it will ensure that the school leavers and also the Under 20s remain in the selection frame for provincial honours at U21 level as they grow out of the younger two age groups.
The players now have quality league competition throughout the season, unlike in the past when the provincial leagues kicked off in late June with the previous structure of the U19 Championship.
A benefit, of course, is that the BBRU’s contracted U19 players – many of whom who are scheduled to play in the new-look national U19 Championship – put in decent match preparation in the Volcano Trophy competition before the new-look U19 one-week tournament.
The Blue Bulls provincial U19s will play five matches or so against the (senior) Trophy League sides that have a bye on a particular weekend before the Championship tournament.
The results of the Blue Bulls junior sides have been rather impressive. Of course there have been defeats, but Strauss points out that the representative primary school sides have maintained a winning record of above 80%.
The U18 Craven Week side had a successful warm-up and the U21 side at national level and also the junior provincial sides have had a solid build-up to the National U21 Championship and the Youth Weeks respectively, some of which have already been completed.
Among the many junior results during the warm-ups, the U12 provincial tournament, Bondedag and Noordvaal Week, a notable performance was the winning of all four the Blue Bulls junior matches against the Golden Lions: U12A 12-10; U12 XV 12-7; U13A 27-24; U13 XV 46-5
In a warm-up at the annual Bondedag held at Bekker Hoërskool the Blue Bulls beat the Free State 40-38 in their warm-up – and although this is not the real McCoy, the Blue Bulls would have been buoyed by this win. The Free State is the host union for the U18 Craven Week that starts at Grey College on Monday.
Both the Blue Bulls and the Blue Bulls XV are in the group that play their first matches on Tuesday where they will face one of last year’s unbeaten teams, Border, and the Golden Lions XV respectively.
The Limpopo Blue Bulls won 38-35 against a Golden Lions XV.
The Blue Bulls, who suffered three defeats in what was probably their worst Craven Week yet I 2018, are confident of being one of the leading sides this year.
There are also many matches, from U12 to U18 age groups, in some cases with four Blue Bulls provincial teams competing in an age group, where the results percentage have been overwhelmingly in favour of the Blue Bulls. In fact, the combined winning percentage of all the junior schools teams is over 80%.
National U16 Girls tournament
The Blue Bulls drew the main match with SWD 26-all to end their campaign at the national U16 tournament unbeaten. They had beaten Border Country Districts 22-7 and won 41-7 against Boland in their earlier matches.
LIMPOPO BLUE BULLS
The Limpopo Blue Bulls have also had outstanding results in the Noordvaal Week and the Bondedag which preceded the national youth weeks. The U18s included a good win over the Golden Lions XV (38-35), the U13s did well in their Craven Week and beat Boland 27-26 and won 43-12 against the Pumas to finish seventh of the 18 teams on the standings.
In the provincial U12 tournament, the Limpopo Blue Bulls beat the Blue Bulls 20-5 in the main match!
They also won both U12 matches against the Pumas, with the U12 side winning 24-12 and the U12XV beating Pumas XV 35-34.