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Bulls have the character to bounce back - Hougaard

Trevor Cramer talks to former Bulls flyhalf Derrick Hougaard on the 10th anniversary of the Bulls' famous maiden Super Rugby triumph against the Sharks in 2007.

derrick hougaard

As we head into week 13 of the southern hemisphere's premier rugby competition, Super Rugby, the fixture list has coughed up a significant local derby this week -- The Lions vs the Bulls.

Traditionally, this match should be one of the highlights of the season when one looks back at the history of the traditional cross-Jukskei derby going back to the bitter Transvaal vs Northern Transvaal rivalry.

But sadly, this season it's the Bulls who make the short 50km trip across the Jukskei River to Ellis Park in woeful form and effectively out of the playoff race.

Even more significant is the fact that exactly 10 years ago, the men from Pretoria won their first of three Super Rugby titles (Super 14) with a last-gasp 20-19 victory over the Sharks in Durban.

It will forever be remembered as the 'Bryan Habana' final, as the speedy winger scored a decisive try after the final hooter to bring the Bulls within two points of glory.

Flyhalf Derick Hougaard sealed the memorable victory by slotting the conversion between the poles.

From that year, the men from Loftus went on to add two more Super Rugby titles to their haul (2009 and 2010), becoming the most successful South African franchise.

As Hougaard and the 'Class of 2007' mark the 10th anniversary of that memorable triumph, the former flyhalf shares the sentiment that the mood isn't too good on the northern side of the Gauteng provincial divide.

But, he remains excited about another pending Lions-Bulls showdown.

"Looking back at a day like today - a 10 year reunion -- as an ex player I really feel for the guys," says Hougaard.

"Pretoria is a great place to play rugby when you winning, but equally as hostile when you losing," he adds.

But like in 2002, where coach Meyer's side lost 12 matches on the trot, Hougaard feels the day is close where the incredibly talented Bulls outfit will click as a unit.

"They are a bunch of guys with great character and I know they are hurting."

Even attending a press conference at Loftus this week one couldn't really feel the palpable excitement usually associated with a cross-Jukskei derby and the focus was more on what the Bulls hoped to salvage from an atrocious season.

At Ellis Park, there was a distinctly different vibe as the Lions stare at another realistic shot at Super Rugby honours. For the Bulls sadly the race is run.

Haunting memories of the Bulls' 2002 season are returning when the then Northern Bulls failed to win a match under then coach Heyneke Meyer and cost him his job. But, the rest is history.

While he is hailed in some quarters as a fine mentor, Bulls coach Nollis Marais is feeling the heat and despite his every effort to sell a three-season growth strategy to the Bulls Board, even he feels, like Meyer in 2002, he is living on borrowed time. 

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