Bulls stick with tried and tested
The Vodacom Bulls have stuck with their tried and tested combination ahead of Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby qualifier against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Coach Frans Ludeke made just one change to the team that beat the Lions as the squad settled into their base just outside the city centre amid icy conditions and snowfall that greeted them.
Big Flip van der Merwe is back after missing the Lions game with a hip injury, with Wilhelm Steenkamp dropping down to the bench. This means that one of the two loose forwards on the bench had to fall out, and Deon Stegmann was retained with young CJ Stander becoming surplus to requirements.
Still, the emphasis was more about adjusting to the different time zones and conditions since their arrival, especially with such little time to prepare.
While the team has its own plan to counter the effects of jetlag, the Bulls have opted against making a big deal of the fatigue that inevitably sets in on such a long journey.
“It’s important that we don’t make a big thing about it,” Ludeke told SuperSport.com. “It’s not a big issue to us, and the important factor is that you get a good night’s sleep. We do have a strategy and a plan to have everyone right by kickoff, but we had a good journey and it’s nice to be here.”
What is more important for Ludeke and Co is the way the team handles the inevitable pressure that will come its way this weekend.
The Crusaders have a superb home record and no South African team has won there since the turn of the century. That means the odds will be stacked against them, but it isn’t something that is concerning the Bulls coach.
“All six teams deserve to be here,” he quipped. “All of them played good rugby throughout the year to qualify. There isn’t one team that has an edge on another and it will all come down to which team handles the pressure the best. This is finals rugby, and we know how to handle the pressure. We are playing away but we know this is a once-off game and we know what we have to do.
“We know this is the most important game of our season, and we have to have the belief. We have made one or two small adjustments to our game, but we are confident going into Saturday’s game.”
Ludeke said the weekend’s games would be “competitive” and the Bulls are confident they can surprise their opponents.
“Both games will be competitive, and it will come down to one or two opportunities. We took a lot of positives out of our tour here, even though we lost the games in New Zealand. We were in with a chance of victory in both games and we want to make sure we have a chance this weekend. It is a vital game for us and it will come down to how we handle it.”
The Bulls will have a light run in the Christchurch cold to run through their game plan, but it was worth a chuckle that some members of the management braved the icy weather at 7am -- only hours after arriving, to play golf -- their way of shaking off the jetlag.
Vodacom Bulls team: Zane Kirchner, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Wynand Olivier, Bjorn Basson, Morne Steyn, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies (capt), Dewald Potgieter, Jacques Potgieter Juandre Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Werner Kruger, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Dean Greyling.
Replacements: Willie Wepener, Frik Kirsten, Wilhelm Steenkamp, Deon Stegmann, Jano Vermaak, Louis Fouche, Francois Venter.