There was no place to hide for beleaguered Bulls coach Nollis Marais and captain Adriaan Strauss in the aftermath of their 62-24 record home defeat to the Crusaders on Saturday.
Not only did the Bulls concede 10 tries‚ they were regularly shoved off their own ball in the scrums and fell off tackles. That partially explained the mass half-time exodus by the fans when the hosts were trailing 31-3. While they scored three converted tries‚ the Crusaders doubled their points tally in a ruthless display.
Marais did not want to acknowledge that his job could be on the line after their sixth loss of what has been an underwhelming campaign.
However‚ he admitted the team was at a crossroads‚ especially with the manner his "month of hell" has started.
The lack of fire and passion in a home game against a New Zealand side they had not lost to at home since 2008 was astounding and pointed to a poorly coached side.
"That’s a decision that I can’t make and there are two coaches in life: it’s the one who is fired and the one who is going to get fired‚" Marais.
"The only thing I can do now is to focus on the team getting ready. I know there are unhappy people and I can accept that. Whatever happens now is a board decision and whatever decision that is made‚ I’ll accept.
"Defeat isn’t good but you’ve got two options in life. It’s either you stand up and fight or sit in the corner and let everybody kick you. We’ve now got a choice of standing up and coming out and playing well or sit in the corner. We’ll have to choose which option we follow."
Marais said the buck stopped with him in terms of the team being substandard with the tournament starting to sift the grain from the chaff.
The Bulls had suffered the early indignity of being the first South African side to lose to the Sunwolves, but all their papered-over cracks were exposed by a Crusaders side that did not have to shift out of fourth gear despite the wide winning margin.
The Highlanders‚ the Bulls’ next opponents‚ may be a poor man’s Crusaders but the lack of defensive fight from the Bulls must have been something Tony Brown’s side noticed.
They fought back from a 41-24 deficit to beat the
Cheetahs 45-41 in the last five minutes in Bloemfontein.
Marais, though, still needs to find a way for his team to
navigate out of the slump.
"I wasn’t mistaken when I went to the board and explained to them the way I wanted to play‚ this is the plan and this is the way forward in terms of how I want to play‚" Marais said. "I’ll stick to that because I have a certain way and a certain belief in terms of how I want the team to play even though that’s not the case at the moment. I’ve always had results in every team that I’ve coached.
"We’ve got a good coaching staff to turn things around. I could’ve made a decision any time that I wanted and that’s not the right thing. If you want to blame someone for anything‚ it has to be me. I’ll never run away from anything and I take responsibility for the team. It may not look that way now but I believe the Bulls will be a force."