In the olden days, the Blue Bulls were a relentlessly successful team because nobody could live with the snorting Neanderthals that stampeded about the Loftus Versfeld "Bull Ring".

Somehow, Pretoria consistently produced the biggest, meanest men in the land, and no prisoners were taken.

The Currie Cup took up permanent residence at Loftus and the Super 12 trophy might well have landed up there too had it been in existence during the Bulls' staggering run of success during the '60s, '70s and '80s.

Then the game of rugby changed. Opposition players discovered the gym and protein shakes and soon sheer physical size was no longer enough to guarantee victories.

A little grey matter became an equally important ingredient.

But the Bulls stubbornly refused to let go of what had worked so well for them. They just could not bring themselves to move with the times and there was no sympathy for them when they completely crashed in the late'90s.

They were coming last in the Currie Cup as well as the Super 12 by playing the stupidest rugby on the planet.

Something had to be done. Cometh the hour, cometh the man in the form of a young coach called Heyneke Meyer.

He had been coaching since the age of 20 - he was 32 when he took over at the Bulls - after a crippling knee injury ended his playing days, and he had picked up a number of visionary ideas during his psychology studies at university.

Meyer's enlightened plans for the revamping of rugby in the Bulls province were too much too soon for the die-hards at Loftus, and with no support he could not prevent the Bulls from losing all 11 games in the 2002 Super 12.

Meyer was shown the door, but his successors did no better and he was reluctantly invited back to coach the team in the Currie Cup, but he was not allowed near the Super 12 version of the Bulls. This honour went to Rudy Joubert, a coach cut from very different cloth to that of the quiet, humble Meyer.

The players loved Meyer, embraced his ideas and won the Currie Cup. Then they did it again, and last year they made it a hat-trick.

But the Bulls were not responding to Joubert and Currie Cup success was not sustained into the Super 12.

At long last Joubert got the boot and now, for the first time, the Bulls have coaching continuity from the Currie Cup into the Super 12. Now watch them go.

Meyer has a great knack of pushing the buttons that produce the best in players.

For instance, 2003 World Cup flyhalf Derick Hougaard is regarded as one of South Africa's best talents but last year Joubert barely played him in the Super 12. In the Currie Cup, Meyer rekindled the 21-year-old's brilliance.

Maybe it has something to do with the psychometric testing he does on the players. The WHAT?

"I create a brain profile for each individual," the 38-year-old Meyer explains. "It helps to know that this guy has a right-side dominated brain and will therefore respond to logic and fact, while the next guy is left-side dominant and therefore more passionate and creative."

Heavens above! There will be some old Bulls turning in their graves at such mumbo jumbo.

This is a far cry from the days when pre-match preparation consisted of consumption of dripping, raw meat.

It gets better. Meyer the philosopher says: "I have been working with Hougaard since he was 18 and he has been through some tough times [with Joubert and Bok coach Rudolf Straeuli].

"He has now won three Currie Cups but I can honestly say that the success is no more than short term. What is far more important is that by becoming a great person he has also become a great player.

"I like to quote Andrew Carnegie who made billions of dollars in the mining industry and wrote that every person is digging for gold, but you have to go through a lot of layers of rubbish before you find the nuggets. I really believe that about people and that is what motivates me as coach."

It is heady stuff for rugby folk, but it is working for Meyer.

He has assembled a squad that has two packs of international class forwards. Locks Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield are at the very peak of their powers.

This is the first year the Bulls have had every piece of the puzzle in place. Meyer will not let them stuff it up.


VITAL STATS


Titles: 0


Finals: 0


Best finish: 3rd round robin as Northern Transvaal, beaten in semifinals 1996


Worst finish: 12th in 1999, 2001 and 2002


Biggest win: 59-29 v Highlanders, 1996


Biggest loss: 73-9 v Brumbies, 1999


Backs:


Ricardo Loubscher


Johan Roets


John Mametsa


Akona Ndugane


Gavin Passens


Danwel Demas


Bryan Habana


JP Nel


Wynand Olivier


Etienne Botha


Derick Hougaard


Morne Steyn


Kennedy Tsimba


Heini Adams


Fourie de Preez


Forwards:


Anton Leonard (capt)


Jacques Cronje


Tim Dlulane


Warren Brosnihan


Ruan Vermeulen


Pedrie Wannenburg


Danie Rossouw


Bakkies Botha


Victor Matfield


Francois v Schouwenburg


Richard Bands


Andries Human


Wessel Roux


Kees Lensing


Gary Botha


Danie Coetzee