Six weeks after Bulls coach Frans Ludeke resigned after failing to take his side to the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs, the Pretoria franchise are struggling to find a suitable replacement coach for next year’s tournament.
According to supersport.com, while Nollis Marais has been elevated from the Vodacom Cup to Absa Currie Cup and is currently preparing the side in Japan ahead of their last friendly match against the Canon Eagles, there is a growing desperation and worry that the Bulls might not find a top quality coach before the preparation for next year’s expanded Super Rugby tournament begins.
It was expected that Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan would be the favourite, and sources close to the Bulls management say that he was offered the job, but turned the Bulls down, choosing to focus on the Springboks. While Van Graan hasn’t commented on the move, he is currently concentrating on preparing the Boks for their Rugby World Cup campaign.
The Bok assistant coach is highly rated, and has also been linked to the Stormers coaching position, but apparently didn’t feel it was the right time to return to the province where he learnt most of his rugby.
With Van Graan’s father Barend still CEO at the union and having extended his contract for a further three years, this also played a part as the headstrong Bok assistant is keen on proving his credentials on his own.
The situation got worse as it was learnt the Bulls had approached at least three other top international coaches, who all declined the offer to negotiate to take over the running of the three-time Super Rugby champions.
According to sources Supersport analysts John Mitchell and Nick Mallett were approached as well as former Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, and all declined the offer.
One of the major sticking points is the fact that Ludeke’s coaching team all still have contracts with the union and whoever takes over would not be able to choose their own management team.
While Pieter Rossouw has left and is currently helping Namibia prepare for the upcoming Rugby World Cup, Victor Matfield still has a two year contract with the union, as does many of the backroom staff.
Most international coaches would be unwilling to take over a team without the ability to appoint their own management teams and it seems this has become a massive sticking point for the Bulls.
Add to this the dearth of coaches locally that could step into a Super Rugby role with the pressures and expectations that a team like the Bulls have, and it is also a testament to the Bulls own inability to institute a succession plan through their junior coaches that would have been able to step into the void.
Another sticking point is that whoever takes over will have little say for the next year in terms of recruitment, with most of it already done and many of the top players already committed to teams during the current transfer season.
While there has been a void, it seems that Marais has been consulted as to the players who have been recruited both at junior and senior levels as there is no current head coach.
Therefore, it may not be too much of a surprise that if Marais has some success in the Currie Cup this year, that the Bulls may appoint him in the Super Rugby position, with there being little other options available to them at the moment.
The Bulls face Canon Eagles on Saturday before they open their Currie Cup campaign next weekend.