Almost everything was against the Bulls heading into Friday night’s European Champions Cup clash against Lyon at Matmut Stadium, but nobody could have expected things to go quite as badly as they did.
The tourists, outplayed and outmuscled, were walloped 31-7 in their final pool stage fixture of the competition.
AS IT HAPPENED | Lyon 31-7 Bulls
Having needed a losing bonus point at the very least to secure qualification to the last 16, the Bulls must now wait for Saturday’s fixtures before they can celebrate.
If the Sharks (already qualified) beat Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon (15:00), then the Bulls will qualify for the playoffs.
If Harlequins win, however, then the Bulls will become invested in Racing 92’s trip to table-topping Leinster at 17:15. If Racing win that match with a bonus point, then the Bulls will move down to eighth in Pool A.
That is an unlikely result given that Leinster are overwhelming favourites, but it does mean that the Bulls’ fate is now out of their own hands.
Even if Racing pull off that unlikely win, however, Gloucester would then need to beat Bordeaux Begles away from home by more than 50 points to knock the Bulls out of the playoff positions.
The more significant outcome is that, regardless of what happens from here, the Bulls will play their last 16 fixture away from home.
From the first whistle, the South Africans were on the back foot.
They travelled from a Pretoria summer to freezing French temperatures, there was concern over the synthetic Lyon surface and their Director of Rugby Jake White stayed home as he continues his recovery from emergency surgery.
But even with all those factors, there was little excuse for what the Bulls dished up in the opening 40 minutes.
They were dominated at the scrums and mauls and they lacked accuracy everywhere. On the few occasions the Bulls did enter Lyon territory in that first half, they lost the ball with an error-prone bluntness that was hard to watch.
Three tries (two from a maul and one off a scrum) and a penalty down – there was also a yellow card for prop Simphiwe Manatazima – the Bulls went into the tunnel 24-0 behind at the break, and Lyon were well set for their first victory of the competition.
Flyhalf Johan Goosen was having a particularly tough outing as he missed tackles and passed waywardly.
The Bulls needed some form of damage control in the second half, and it was Kurt-Lee Arendse who finally gave them something to smile about when an expertly-timed interception saw him run the length of the field to score and get his side on the board.
Goosen knocked over a difficult kick from the left, and it was 24-7.
The Bulls were looking a lot more lively, but as the snow began to fall, conditions became incredibly difficult and the Bulls’ struggles to hold onto possession were amplified even more.
Where Lyon were measured and responsible with their phase play, the Bulls were careless and, all too often, they gifted possession back to their opposition through poor handling and decision-making.
When Lyon flyhalf Leo Berdeu sliced through a half-gap to score his side’s fourth of the night on 57 minutes, any short-lived hopes of a Bulls comeback were effectively extinguished.
That score made it 31-7 as the Bulls began emptying their bench in the knowledge that there was no way back.
Lyon 31 (24)
Tries Guillaume Marchand (2), Jean-Marc Doussain, Leo Berdeu
Conversions: Berdeu (4)
Bulls 7 (0)
Try: Kurt-Lee Arendse
Conversion: Johan Goosen