While their fate of making the play-offs no longer rests in their hands, the Bulls will be holding on to the last glimmer of hope by making sure that they record convincing victories in their remaining games against the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday and the Cheetahs a week later at Loftus Versfeld.
In doing so the Bulls will rely on the mercy of the teams above them as they still need to play against each other.
At best the Bulls can surprise all by finishing at the summit of the South African conference thereby guaranteeing themselves a place in the play-offs but that miracle would only happen if the Stormers spectacularly implode in their two remaining games against the Lions and Sharks.
How the Lions fare will be of little concern to the Bulls as they only have one match remaining and at best can finish on 45 points, one point shy of the maximum number of points the Bulls can accumulate in their two matches.
The Bulls will be hoping that the fifth and sixth placed Chiefs and Brumbies, respectively, fail to win their remaining games in order for the three-time Super Rugby champions to stand any chance of sneaking into the play-offs.
The Bulls’ obsession with making the play-offs goes beyond just restoring the dominance they enjoyed in the competition between 2007 and 2010.
Much of the desperation to make the play-offs is to relieve the pressure that coach Frans Ludeke is under while a handful of players are also playing for their futures.
While Ludeke remains contracted to the Bulls until the end of next year, there are rumours doing the rounds that his tenure as head coach is under serious threat if the team doesn’t show improvement in the remainder of this year’s Super Rugby and Currie Cup campaigns.
Ludeke is not the only individual amongst the Bulls management whose job is under threat as speculation is rife that two additional members of Ludeke’s team are likely to be let go at the end of the year.
The Bulls are already in the market for a backline coach after Pieter Rossouw tendered his resignation prior to the team going on tour while they still have not replaced their kicking coach Vlok Cilliers who left last year to join Western Province.
Furthermore, the Bulls are yet to renew the contracts of two of their most expensive players in captain Pierre Spies and Francois Hougaard, further fuelling speculation that this year will be their last in Bulls colours.
One of the most promising players, William Small-Smith, is said to be on his way out of Loftus and will request for a release from his contract at the end of the Super Rugby season.
Small-Smith has seen little Super Rugby action in the past three years partially due to injuries but also because of Ludeke’s insistence of staying loyal to his players of choice regardless of their form.
If granted an early release from his contract, Small-Smith will be heading to Bloemfontein to join the Free State Cheetahs who already have former Bulls players Francois Venter, Clayton Blommetjies and Jean Cook on their books. - The Star
Original source: Pressure mounts on Ludeke