The enormous task facing former New Zealand coach John Mitchell at crisis-torn Blue Bulls was exposed in a 51-15 thrashing by Pumas as the South African Currie Cup reached the halfway stage Saturday.
Bulls conceded eight tries and three of the team were yellow-carded against modest opponents in northeastern city Nelspruit.
It was the fourth consecutive defeat for the Pretoria outfit, leaving them 12 points behind pacesetters and defending champions Free State Cheetahs.
Bulls were recently labelled "big, fat and lazy" by South African rugby author and writer Dan Retief.
"Some big, fat and lazy Bulls are in for a rude shock when Mitchell marches into Pretoria to crack the whip," he tweeted.
Less than a decade ago, Bulls were the dominant southern hemisphere side, winning three Super Rugby titles in four seasons.
They have also won 23 Currie Cup titles, a record bettered only by Cape Town-based Western Province.
After losing 11 of 15 Super Rugby matches this season, Bulls persuaded Mitchell to quit as coach of the United States and move to Pretoria.
Nollis Marais was demoted to coach of the Currie Cup team, leaving Mitchell to prepare for the 2018 Super Rugby campaign.
But after three straight losses, Bulls sent Marais on "paid leave" and told Mitchell to take over the Currie Cup reins.
The New Zealander could never have imagined his debut would be so humiliating as a Pumas team lacking their star -- ill flanker Chris Cloete -- built a 22-10 half-time advantage.
Hopes of a Bulls comeback were dashed by ill discipline with the side reduced to 13 men for five minutes after forwards Jaco Venter and Ruben van Heerden were sin-binned.
Full-back Warrick Gelant, included in the Springboks squad this season without making a matchday 23, was the only Bull to impress and scored a late try.
His team-mates committed endless handling errors and missed tackles and regularly surrendered possession in contact.
The other two matches provided drama with Cheetahs and Sharks snatching late victories to retain the top two places in the standings, one point apart.
Cheetahs, who debut in the Pro14 next weekend away to Ulster, scored a post-siren try through full-back Sergeal Petersen to edge Golden Lions 30-24 in Bloemfontein.
From next week, when they also visit Sharks in the Currie Cup, Cheetahs must split their squad and coaches between the two competitions.
The 'double dates' could continue until late October if Cheetahs reach a second successive Currie Cup final.
Cheetahs and the Southern Kings from Port Elizabeth are joining Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams in the Pro14 after being dumped from a down-sizing Super Rugby competition.
Substitute back Rhyno Smith slotted a conversion from the touchline to give Sharks a 21-20 victory over 33-time Currie Cup champions Western Province in Cape Town.
His kick followed a try by full-back Inny Radebe, who dived over in the corner as Sharks recovered after trailing by 10 points during the opening half.