South Africa’s most seasoned current Super Rugby head coach - that’s not saying a lot, of course - is also now its most endangered.
If Pote Human gets back at the Bulls helm for any further activity in the competition this season (increasingly unlikely given the worldwide effects of the coronavirus) he will also do so with one hand effectively tied behind his back.
The recent revelation that World Cup 2007-masterminding Springbok coach Jake White has been appointed director of rugby at the franchise sparked simultaneous speculation that he would “take the tracksuit” from Human, even if the long-time Loftus loyalist remains contracted in an altered capacity.
It would only up the ante for Human, in his second year as head coach, to turn things around in a hurry results-wise should the 2020 tournament resume, as he has begun it noticeably on the back foot in that regard: one win from six and a miserly six points for the three-time past champions.
Still, as with his rookie counterpart just down the highway, Ivan van Rooyen of the Lions, isn’t that just about what might have been expected from a team in the throes of a grim (at least initially) transformation after a wave of exoduses of major names from the corral?
The situation would also be looking just a little less perilous had the Bulls only held on a few weeks ago to see off the visiting Blues 21-20, instead of seeing Otere Black goal an 81st-minute penalty to seize the spoils.
That result saw them slide to a nought-from-three start, and history has shown that only traditionally champagne outfits like the Crusaders can bounce back from that degree of early deficit to be title contenders.
What those first three matches (Sharks, Stormers, Blues) showed was that the Bulls lacked - at least at that stage - a suitably stinging punch on attack, averaging one try per game even as their defence kept reasonable integrity under Human’s guidance.
But then a different hallmark came into play: while tries became hugely more common in their favour over the next trio of clashes, bringing the whippet-like Rosko Specman out wide to special prominence, the Bulls began to take water on board badly at the other end of the park.
While dotting 12 times themselves, a pleasing turnaround, they suddenly conceded a relative avalanche in the period of 13, including six each against the Jaguares at Loftus and Reds in Brisbane in game one of their then-jettisoned Australasian tour.
As if to confirm that they went into the tourney suspension period with clear problems in both alignment and collective application on defence, they somehow contrived to let slip a three-tries-to-nil head start on the Queenslanders to be thumped 41-17 before heading homeward.
It is one area where White’s spirited intervention should lead to relatively fruitful correction before long, if the Bulls do get to run out again in 2020.
Still, Human may wish to point out some recent rays of light in his favour: that bright start against the Reds, preceded by a 38-13 home trouncing of the Highlanders before crossing the Indian Ocean.
It just began to suggest that his remoulding troops were finally “getting it” in many respects and ready to believe they could develop, as a starting point, into a potentially nearer mid-table kind of tournament factor.
The big, bruising former Eastern Province and Free State loose forward did, remember, guide the 2019 Bulls to a gallant quarter-final exit then, having had the services at the time of a raft of proven internationals before most flew the coop.
The Bulls have always prided themselves on forward muscularity, including strong lock stocks, and that is the department where Human saw the most deflating exit of resources ahead of the 2020 campaign: he could no longer call on any of Lood de Jager, RG Snyman, Jason Jenkins, Eli Snyman or even the versatile Hanro Liebenberg who operated there for a while last season.
White already seems determined, if the media grapevine is to be believed, to rectify matters in the second row through some recalls or fresh signatures from abroad - immediately giving him a stronger boiler room that Human has had to go with.
It’s been difficult going, but the incumbent has been, I’d suggest, short of a train smash so far in the slashed season and will retain some sympathisers if his powers do get significantly reduced or he is more formally evicted …
Human’s rating: 5.5/10
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