With the Super Rugby quarter-finalists now decided we take a look at those teams who missed out. Next up, the Bulls.
Few teams will be more disappointed with their 2016 Super Rugby campaign than the Bulls.
Indeed, at the start of the season the three-time former champions were widely expected to waltz into the quarter-finals having been drawn in the Africa 1 Conference, which was perceived as the easier of the two South African pools.
Facing Australian rather than Kiwi opposition was supposed to offer a path to the play-offs for the young team from Pretoria, who ended the season a whopping nine points behind the conference-winning Stormers.
More importantly, the Bulls finished a point short of the Sharks, who clinched the quarter-final wild-card berth in the South African group.
It's a season that can only be described as a failure although, to be fair, there were mitigating circumstances.
After heavy criticism of their playing style, which many labelled as outdated, the Bulls endeavoured to evolve into a more exciting side. It was never going to happen overnight.
They were also hit hard by injuries, with Springbok fly-half Handré Pollard ruled out before the season even began. Full-back Warrick Gelant – a rising star – followed him into the nurse's office in March and Bok centre Jan Serforntein joined them in June while Trevor Nyakane and RG Snyman missed the crucial trip to Buenos Aires.
Nevertheless, head coach Nollis Marais will feel they still should have made the cut. Marais was left to rue dropped bonus points against the Rebels in Round Two and the Reds in Round Eight – both games they won easily – that ultimately cost them dearly.
Largely empty stands at Loftus Versfeld were indicative of a team that wasn't meeting expectations. A lucky draw at home against the Sharks in Round 4 had alarms bells going off. A narrow escape is Singapore didn't bode well but a big win in Perth offered fans some hope.
However, a 56-20 trashing at home at the hands of the Lions confirmed that this was not going to be a trophy-winning season.
With another large exodus of playes on the horizon, the process of rebuilding the Bulls squad continues to be a tough task, even though they have a backline with massive potential. Top of the list of recruitment targets must be quality front rowers, especially tightheads as the once-formidable Bulls' scrum has become their Achilles heel.
Best player: Jannes Kirsten looks set to grow into an outstanding player and Lappies Labuschagne has had a strong campaign but RG Snyman has been a revelation in his debut season. The former Baby Bok is very fast for a second rower (he was a sprinter at school) and is the latest in the long line a quality lock to wear the blue jersey. He was rewarded for a stellar season with a place in the South Africa 'A' side that took on the England Saxons in June.