Swys: Bulls are the side to watch in 2018
Cape Town - Lions coach Swys de Bruin will be watching the Bulls under new coach John Mitchell with keen interest when the 2018 Super Rugby season gets underway.
While the Lions have finished as runners-up for the last two editions of the tournament, the Bulls have fallen far from their glory days of 2007-2010 when they won three titles in four years.
Under Nollis Marais last year, the men from Pretoria won just four of 15 matches to finish second bottom of the South African Group ahead of only the lowly Sunwolves.
While De Bruin has his own worries this year - he steps into the head coach position for the first time after the departure of Lions legend Johan Ackermann - he is expecting stern resistance from the three other South African sides in the competition.
"The Stormers always make the play-offs. They are a solid, good unit," De Bruin said of coach Robbie Fleck's men.
"They are sort of island-based, alone out there in the Cape. They’re a very good franchise and they’ve got a very good history. They’ve got a fantastic director of rugby in Gert Smal and they will definitely be a factor."
Turning his attention further east, De Bruin also expected a serious challenge from the Sharks in Durban.
"The Sharks under (coach) Robert (Du Preez) will be strong. I know him well and he’s a good disciplinarian and a good coach. They showed in the Currie Cup what they can do," said De Bruin.
But it is in Pretoria where De Bruin will be watching with the most interest.
"The side that everyone is watching is definitely the Bulls under John Mitchell," he said.
"The brand they played in Currie Cup was good.
"If you look at his (Mitchell's) track record, he has always done well in his first year. What happens after the first year is another story, but he’s got a very good track record in his first year."
The Lions are in Super Rugby action on Saturday when they host the Sharks at Ellis Park, while the Bulls must wait until the following weekend when they host the Hurricanes at Loftus.